- Historic Sites
How My Father And President Kennedy Saved The World
The Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kremlin
October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
No one said anything. Well, Father didn’t really need any advice. A clear picture was emerging. Before a war started, they had to accept Kennedy’s proposal now, remove the missiles, and be satisfied with his promise not to attack Cuba. Everything indicated that the President was reaching the limit of his strength. A joint missile removal was no longer feasible. And Turkish missiles were not what counted anyway. Life was more important than prestige. Of course Father would have liked a more ceremonial assurance of the inviolability of Cuba’s borders, a written agreement or decision overseen by the United Nations. But the situation was obviously too volatile. That was Father’s general train of thought.
He spoke for probably about an hour, returning constantly to the premise that Kennedy’s word should be trusted and that he would be in the White House for at least two—perhaps even six—more years. A great deal could be accomplished during that time. Cuba would become impregnable, wealthy, and happy. As for the Turkish missiles, forget them. Kennedy would remove them sooner or later. Robert Kennedy had confirmed that in his last talk with our ambassador and only asked not to be pressured. Father broke off and looked around at those present. Members of the Central Committee’s Presidium supported its First Secretary with their usual unanimity.
While Father ,was persuading those present and, more important, himself, the duty officer opened the door a crack and beckoned to Troyanovsky, who slipped out of the room. When he came back, all heads turned toward him. What more could happen? No one would have risked calling the chairman’s aide for anything trivial. Father broke off and encouraged him: “Speak up.”
“We have received an intelligence report. It’s been announced that President Kennedy will deliver a speech on television at 5:00 P.M. ,” Troyanovsky said with unusual rapidity. “The subject was not announced.” It was easy to guess what it would be. On Monday, October 22, he had announced the blockade. Now, on Sunday, the twenty-eighth, the next step would be an invasion. The previous day’s warnings by Robert Kennedy were being realized. The President was unable to hold out.
“At five o’clock whose time?” asked Father.
Troyanovsky only shrugged. Gen. Semyon P. Ivanov, Secretary of the Defense Council, had been called to the phone at about the same time as Troyanovsky, and he replied, “Moscow time.” No one knows if Ivanov just made this up, assuming that it was better to be early than late, but the general’s words removed any lingering doubt. Catastrophe was only hours off.
Fear has big eyes. American television was actually reporting that the President’s week-old speech of October 22 would be repeated on Sunday. We can only speculate why our Washington intelligence station turned it into a new address to the nation. Father resumed speaking. In his opinion, our agreement to remove the missiles should be broadcast at once over the radio. Father was ready to begin dictating immediately. His stenographers, who were sitting at a small table along the wall, made their preparations. But Troyanovsky had more news to impart.
“Nikita Sergeyevich, a very disturbing message has also come in from Castro.” Oleg Aleksandrovich again spoke in quiet and measured tones. “The text itself is still at the Foreign Ministry, but I have written down its main points.”
“Yes?” asked Father impatiently.
“Castro thinks that war will begin in the next few hours and that his source is reliable,” said Troyanovsky, looking at his notes. “They don’t know exactly when, possibly in 24 hours, but in no more than 72 hours. In the opinion of the Cuban leadership, the people are ready to repel imperialist aggression and would rather die than surrender.” Oleg Aleksandrovich sighed, then continued: “Castro thinks that in face of an inevitable clash with the United States, the imperialists must not be allowed to deliver a strike.” He looked down again at his notepad before continuing. “Allowed to be the first to deliver a nuclear strike.”
“That is what I was told,” Troyanovsky responded, without visible disquiet.
“What?” said Father somewhat more calmly. “Is he proposing that we start a nuclear war? That we launch missiles from Cuba?”
“Apparently. The text will be confirmed soon, and then it will be easier to tell what Castro really has in mind.”
“That is insane. We deployed missiles there to prevent an attack on the island, to save Cuba and defend socialism. But now not only is he ready to die himself, he wants to drag us with him.” Whatever doubts Father might have had about his decision to remove the missiles had vanished completely. “Remove them, and as soon as possible.-Before it’s too late. Before something terrible happens.”
The meeting’s participants stared at one another incredulously. To start a world war so cavalierly! Obviously events were slipping out of control. Yesterday the Cubans had shot down a plane without permission. Today they were preparing a nuclear attack.
To general approval, Father ordered that an immediate order be sent to Pliyev through military channels: “Allow no one near the missiles. Obey no orders to launch and under no circumstances install the warheads.” Father began to relax a little. Pliyev was a reliable and disciplined officer. But in the heat of battle. . . . “Remove them, and as quickly as possible,” repeated Father, addressing everyone present but apparently no one in particular. Then he had a sudden thought and turned to the foreign minister.