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From Cuban Missiles to Putin’s Crisis

When the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, his Politburo colleagues accused him of making the USSR appear weak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin, Khrushchev had the wisdom not to start an apocalyptic war simply to save face.

NEW YORK – Sixty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world is again facing the specter of a nuclear confrontation. With Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing to be losing his war in Ukraine, he continues to escalate his threats, claiming that he may have to use nuclear weapons to protect Russia, including its newly “annexed” Ukrainian territories. As Putin brings the world to the brink, the question now is whether he will step back from it, as the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, did in 1962.

That summer, in response to the United States’ decision to place nuclear weapons in NATO countries, including Turkey, and aim them at Soviet cities, Khrushchev had sought to level the playing field by ordering the surreptitious placement of mid-range nuclear missiles in Cuba. The weapons would also protect the Cuban regime from a US invasion.

When US President John F. Kennedy found out what Khrushchev had done – on October 16 – he was furious. Not only had the Soviets installed nuclear weapons just off America’s shores; they had kept them there for months without the US knowing.

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