Cuban Missile Crisis from the Sowjet Perspective

Apr 2015
83
Switzerland
#1
We all know the American perception of this famous crisis. But I find it very difficult to find many explanations about how the Sowjets understood everything that was going on (at least in a language that I can understand).

The best source I managed to find was Khrustshevs son, Sergei.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phpe0DsisbY
Soviet Perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis from Nikita Khrushchev's Son - USNI News

His main points are:

1. Cuba was Russias version of West Berlin; a tiny, unimportant speck of land deep in enemy territory that you still have to defend, or else lose the support of your allies.
2. America had a massive nuclear superiority over the UdSSR. They had nuclear weapons stationed in West Germany, Britain and Turkey, as well as ICBMs, all capable of hitting the UdSSR. Stationing 50 missiles in Cuba would not shift the balance in power in any way, as there were already 24 ICBMs capable of hitting the US after the "Sputnik-Shock".
3. Khrustshev did not expect the Americans to panic, because the Russians had a history of being attacked and almost completely destroyed for centuries and did not consider some 50 nuclear missiles a big deal, especially since they already had many more on their front doorstep.
But Americans had never experienced such a threat to their lives and country throughout in their history.
He also expected Kennedy to understand that this did not mean a drastic change of any kind, but was merely meant as a statement that Russia would not let Cuba be invaded after the "Bay of Pigs".

I believe that many of this mans points may more or less coincide with how his father felt about the crisis but I still have some questions/problems:
-If Khrustshev did not consider the nukes a big deal, why did he try to pull this mission off in secret? It was quite obvious that the US would find out rather sooner than later, Cuba being on their doorstep and all. My professor also said that if Russia had just come straight out and talked to the US, Kennedy probably couldn't have said anything to stop Khrustshev.
-He draws the parallel between West Berlin and Cuba, but West Berlin was an important issue for the Soviets. Khrustshev tried to get an agreement twice before Cuba happened. Shouldn't he have understood that the US would have similar problems with a Soviet presence in Cuba?
-He says that the UdSSR really didn't care much about the missiles in Turkey, because they were just as dangerous as the missiles in West Germany and Britain, and were going to be removed soon anyway. But why did Khrustshev still demand for them to be removed by the US?

I think that just about covers it. Are there any comments, other sources or perspectives out there?
 
Sep 2014
1,199
Queens, NYC
#4
He says that the UdSSR really didn't care much about the missiles in Turkey, because they were just as dangerous as the missiles in West Germany and Britain, and were going to be removed soon anyway. But why did Khrustshev still demand for them to be removed by the US?

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To make it look as if he got something besides humiliation.
 
Apr 2015
83
Switzerland
#5
He says that the UdSSR really didn't care much about the missiles in Turkey, because they were just as dangerous as the missiles in West Germany and Britain, and were going to be removed soon anyway. But why did Khrustshev still demand for them to be removed by the US?

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To make it look as if he got something besides humiliation.
But the US only removed the missiles in secret, so that this was actually a moral victory for Kennedy. It should have been obvious that demanding the missiles be removed would have only lead to them being stationed there longer because now it would seem like the US was abandoning their allies.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,582
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#6
There were also the Jupiter missiles in Italy [which had removed too, with the ones in Turkey], and actually in South Italy there were 10 US missile bases, while in Turkey the bases were only 5.

From an Italian - Cuban source [the Agency of exchange Italy - Cuba, the article is in Italian http://www.agenziainterscambiocuba.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Crisi-dei-missili-di-Cuba11.pdf, the Agency is in Turin with a participation of Cuban coworkers] I get a brief summary of what happened [in this case from a Cuban perspective].

They sustain that USSR still suffered a delay in the field of ICBM [this is true, in early 60's they were developing their first ICBMs, but the performances were still far from being satisfying, see the development of the Semyorka R-7], so that they had to base their nuclear strategy on not long range missiles. To keep the strategical equilibrium they needed to put launch bases near to US territory [Cuba was perfect].

They evaluated that from Cuba in less than 20 minutes they were able to hit a good number of SAC American installations and, overall, that the US radar defensive system was structured to intercept a threat coming from USSR ... so the Americans would have had to make some improvement in the South East of the Union to be equally efficient in defending US from a threat coming from Cuba.

Reading the article I've noted an interesting point: Fidel Castro, when the US announced the blockade of the isle, underlined that there was nothing illegal in installing Russian missiles in Cuba [with the Cuban consensus]. Americans had installed missiles aiming Russia in Turkey, Italy and UK ...

In good substance, Fidel Castro [and it's interesting that Cubans still remark this] said that what Americans did was near to an act of war, a possible motivation for an escalation in the region.

Kennedy justified the military "quarantine" also with the secrecy and the deceit on the Soviet side [the Italian - Cuban agency has got no troubles in reporting this].

The article, as for the negotiations, puts the accent on the American promise not to invade again Cuba [this was the initial object of exchange for the Soviets, like, the article reports, Llewellyn E. “Tommy” Thompson Jr, former ambassador at Moscow, suggested to Kennedy].

There is also a mention about a nuclear sub of the military escort of the Soviet convoy evaluating the possibility to launch a nuclear missile against US Navy units [Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov refused to give his consensus for the launch, persuading also the other two high officers responsible for this on board to wait].

About the US missiles, the Cuban source puts the accent on the Italian bases, more than on the Turkish ones. I guess that the wide and deep Communist identity of a large part of Italians put Italy in a special position for Moscow as a potential future ally [Italian Communists weren't that glad to stay in NATO].

Politically Italy was more important than Turkey for Soviets and obtaining the removal of the American missiles from here was a political victory for Communists and for Moscow in the eyes of Italian Communists in particular [I remember a similar political crisis for the US missiles in Sicily].
 
Apr 2015
83
Switzerland
#7
Reading the article I've noted an interesting point: Fidel Castro, when the US announced the blockade of the isle, underlined that there was nothing illegal in installing Russian missiles in Cuba [with the Cuban consensus]. Americans had installed missiles aiming Russia in Turkey, Italy and UK ...

In good substance, Fidel Castro [and it's interesting that Cubans still remark this] said that what Americans did was near to an act of war, a possible motivation for an escalation in the region.

Kennedy justified the military "quarantine" also with the secrecy and the deceit on the Soviet side [the Italian - Cuban agency has got no troubles in reporting this].
I think this again raises the question, as to why Khrustshev did not just openly station these missiles on Cuba. (With openly I mean only that he would inform the US government, not necessarily the US public). It seems that even after the missiles were discovered, Kennedy needed to justify his use of force with the Soviet secrecy in the matter, implying that there was more going on than simply a slight change in the balance of power and the defence of an allied nation.
But I don't know how much Castro should really trusted in this matter as the Soviets seemed to be almost more afraid of his actions than of Kennedy's.
Cuban missile crisis: The other, secret one - BBC News

There is also a mention about a nuclear sub of the military escort of the Soviet convoy evaluating the possibility to launch a nuclear missile against US Navy units [Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov refused to give his consensus for the launch, persuading also the other two high officers responsible for this on board to wait].
I have also heard this story. I believe that one of the main factors that changed Khrustshevs mind in the crisis was the realization that there were two nations on the brink of total nuclear anihilation and neither of them really had control over any of it. Khrustshev had no real possibility to control the firing of nukes, neither did Kennedy. American spy planes were fired at by Cuban anti-aircraft guns etc.
After the crisis both Superpowers cooperated in making sure that the nuclear situation was unter better control. One aspect of this was making sure that there was a bilateral nuclear monopoly between the two nations (at least as close to a nuclear monopoly as they could get) with the LTBT and later the NPT treaties. Better direct control over their own nuclear capabilities was the other aspect of this. The US nuclear football came out of this development and the US actually gave the UdSSR the necessary technology to execute their own nuclear control.
 
Mar 2015
688
US
#8
One book I read claimed that cultural differences between the various departments of a single government were a factor in the Cuban missile crisis. Apparently the department that shipped the missiles to Cuba (the KGB?) had a culture of secrecy, so they were very sneaky. When the missiles arrived, another department took over that didn't think about secrecy (the army rocket people). They proceeded to leisurely install the missiles exactly like they would have been installed back home in the USSR. This sloppiness gave the US an opportunity to realize what was happening before the missiles were fully operational. Similar bureaucratic differences made the US behavior confusing.

Another thing I have read is that Kennedy did not perform well in an earlier summit with Kruschev. This made Kruschev believe that Kennedy would be too weak to oppose the Cuban missiles. I don't know if that is true. Maybe it is politically tainted history.
 
Apr 2015
83
Switzerland
#9
Another thing I have read is that Kennedy did not perform well in an earlier summit with Kruschev. This made Kruschev believe that Kennedy would be too weak to oppose the Cuban missiles. I don't know if that is true. Maybe it is politically tainted history.
Kruschev's son stated in the interview that, contrary to popular belief, Kruschev respected Kennedy after their first meeting in Vienna. I don't know how much he can be trusted as a source, but it seems to me that throughout the crisis Kruschev was counting on Kennedy being reasonable and ready to negotiate instead of just invading Cuba.
 

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