Son of Nikita Khrushchev Provides Unique Perspectives on US and Russian History
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By James Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Senior Editor for InCyberDefense and Contributor, In Homeland Security
As all intelligence officers know, the thirst for knowledge is the key to excelling in their jobs and maintaining a daily situational awareness. The same is true for most Americans. We have a need to understand our history, so that we can avoid future mistakes.
One of the best ways to understand our history is to listen to those who have lived through previous eras. On October 28, the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, in association with the Smithsonian Institution, hosted a talk by Dr. Sergei Khrushchev as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series.
Khrushchev spoke on the topic, “The USA and Russia in the Past and Future.” He provided stories from the “other” side of the Cold War.
Sergei Khrushchev Has Seen History Like Few People Have
Khrushchev, now 82, has a unique perspective on Soviet era history. As the son of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier from 1958 to 1964, he witnessed first-hand the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Background of Sergei Khrushchev
Khrushchev lives in Rhode Island. He and his wife, Valentina, became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1999 after emigrating from Russia in 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed.
Khrushchev has two doctoral degrees in engineering, one from the Ukrainian Academy of Science and the other from Moscow Technical University. In the Soviet Union, he worked on cruise missiles and research for space vehicles. Khrushchev is also a visiting professor at the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.
Khrushchev’s Perspective on Historical Events, Starting with the 1930s Depression
Much of Khrushchev’s presentation was about the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, he also provided other interesting historical tidbits.
- During the Great Recession, the Soviet Union imported American engineers to work. Those engineers built tractor factories and did the engineering for many other manufacturing facilities.
Khrushchev explained that as Russian aid to America. It kept the engineers employed, which was a great benefit to the United States. He did not mention that this aid was also a great help for future manufacturing in the Soviet Union.
- After the U.S. entered the Second World War, the U.S. supplied many of the boots worn by Soviet soldiers and also provided food such as powdered eggs to malnourished Russian citizens. Khrushchev had fond memories of the powdered eggs. He noted that many Americans and Russians forget that the U.S. was a benevolent nation that supported other nations during the war.
- The Soviet Red Army during the Cold War consisted of about five million soldiers, which made it the largest army in the world. Red Army troops were deployed from East Germany through the Soviet Republics in the Far East.
- While the U.S. was the first nation to develop nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test in 1949.
- Khrushchev thought Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of our wisest presidents. He talked about Eisenhower’s speech at the National Press Club in Washington, when Eisenhower said that the USSR and the U.S. could learn to deal with each other.
Eisenhower’s speech was published in Soviet papers without comment, which was unusual at that time because the Communist Party-controlled press often added comments. He did not say when this speech was given, but it did help Soviet citizens to believe that peace was possible. The doping scandal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was a blemish on Russia’s reputation.
Khrushchev Explains Soviet Attitudes to Historical Events
Khrushchev offered the Russian perspective on some historical events. He stated that the 1956 Suez Crisis came about because the U.S. would not treat the Soviet Union as an equal. That upset Soviet leaders. But Khrushchev said his father blamed the American government, not President Eisenhower, for the unequal treatment.
While the U.S. had a military force capable of exerting its might in other countries and areas such as Japan, Korea and Latin America, the Soviets did not have the same capability. They could only enter areas that were contiguous land masses; they could not cross water boundaries.
During a visit to Britain, the wife of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden asked Nikita Khrushchev, “How many Russian missiles will it take to destroy Britain?” The Soviet Premier replied, “Five, and we have them.”
Khrushchev’s son liked that story. He said it illustrated how the world remembered the Soviets as starving people during WWII, but the West failed to see the progress the Soviets had made after the war.
Additionally, the Soviets thought of themselves as a super power or at least an equal to other countries. But Russian leaders might not have taken into account that U.S. technology outpaced that of the Soviets.
After his father was deposed in 1964, Khrushchev helped him to write his memoirs. Nikita Khrushchev was the first leader of the Soviet era to survive after leaving office. In the past, most other Soviet leaders were removed and executed. (Lenin died while in a coma in 1923 and Stalin died in 1953 of a massive stroke; both died while still in power.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 occurred when Khrushchev was 27. He had long talks with his father at that time about the standoff.
Before the Cuban Missile Crisis, most Soviets had never heard of Cuba. During the crisis, Cuba became a hero in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev said his father told him, “You always have to support your allies to be a superpower. If you do not, you will lose face.”
Nikita Khrushchev sent the missiles to Cuba to improve the strength of the Soviet Union and to act like a super power. His son said the missiles were the start of a U.S. intelligence community panic.
Years later, Khrushchev met Ted Sorenson, President Kennedy’s speechwriter. Sorenson told him that the U.S. had to look strong during the crisis because Kennedy believed he would be impeached if he did not.
In the end, the two leaders reached an agreement over Cuba. Khrushchev turned back the ships with strategic weapons (i.e. nuclear missiles). The one ship that was allowed through the blockade carried fuel, which was not considered a “strategic weapon.”
The Soviets cited the Freedom of Navigation Program to justify the ship’s voyage.
Ironically, the U.S. now uses the same program with China, which has caused bilateral issues regarding the South China Sea. According to the U.S. Naval Institute, “The U.S. government initiated a Freedom of Navigation Program to contest ‘unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedom of the international community.’”
Russian Perspectives on Recent Invasions and 2016 Election
Khrushchev noted that Ukraine and Georgia’s recent conflicts with Russia were designed to expand Russia’s economic markets. The Russians were upset because the European Union has no tariffs on those two countries but there are tariffs on Russian imports.
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Perhaps as a defense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, Khrushchev also reminded his listeners that from the 12th century to WWII, Ukraine was never a united country. (In 1937, Nikita Khrushchev was the head of the Communist Party of Ukraine.)
Journalist Kimber Laux of the Las Vegas Review Journal wrote about Khrushchev’s comments on the 2016 election. The article included Khrushchev’s view on alleged Russian interference in the election: “I don’t know one person who was influenced by Russia or any other propaganda,” Khrushchev told the reporter. “You cannot blame other countries that they’re behaving in their own interest. You can not try to punish them, but try to negotiate with them.”
Khrushchev Offered Additional Opinions on Russia and Its Leaders
At the end of his talk, Khrushchev provided some final comments on Russia and Soviet leaders. These comments included:
- His father was not a dictator.
- Nikita Khrushchev followed the principle of the “rule of law.’’
- Mikhail Gorbachev destroyed Russia.
Khrushchev also noted that Russia is now more democratic than in previous eras. However, he was very cautious when answering questions about current Russian President Vladimir Putin.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 49th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”
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