The Secrets of the Cold War – Khrushchev’s Strategy in Cuba

  • By defencematters

The American – Soviet relations were severely strained reaching their highest point in the Cuban missiles crisis.

By Alexandru Danilov

Nikita Khrushchev’s ascension to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) marked the beginning of the de-Stalinization process. The new Soviet leader denounced the crimes of Stalin’s regime.

Khrushchev’s foreign policy was, however, in a totally different state. The American – Soviet relations were severely strained reaching their highest point in the Cuban missiles crisis. In October 1962, the two superpowers were short of nuclear war between themselves.

Lenin and Stalin’s idea of international revolution did not appeal to Khrushchev, yet Fidel Castro’s revolutionary efforts did. Castro’s nationalist and anti-communist speech held at the Harvard University in 1959 made Khrushchev take action.

Raul Castro and His Secrets

Raul Castro convinced his brother Fidel Castro that the support of the USSR was vital for the stability of Cuba. The Presidium of the CC of CPSU led by Khrushchev decided on April 23rd, 1959, to give a favourable answer to Raul Castro’s request for Soviet aid: the Kremlin resolved to support the Cuban Army through covert operations. The USSR’s aid consisted of sums of money and Soviet military instructors of Spanish origin sent to the Cuban Army.

Initially, the Cuban Revolution was not oriented towards communism; Raul and Che Guevara were the only ones who were sympathetic to the Marxist-Leninist Doctrine. It seems that Fidel was not aware of his brother’s affiliation to the communist movement as well as the diplomatic relations he established with the USSR. Raul let his brother in on these details only in 1962.

The failed American invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 contributed to the unification of the Cuban Revolutionary Movement around the Partido Socialista Popular (Cuban Communist Party). Fidel Castro became an official member of the party in November 1961.

Stalin and Khrushchev had a very different approach whereas foreign policy and spheres of influence were concerned. Stalin limited the Soviet interest to Eastern Europe, whereas Khrushchev extended it to gaining new allies in Latin America. This way, a war by proxy or the so-called war in the Third World began between the two superpowers.

Khrushchev’s Objectives in Cuba

In his memoirs, Khrushchev claimed that he came up with the idea of deploying missiles into Cuba while he was on holiday in Bulgaria. His plan was approved unanimously by the Presidium of the Central Committee on May 20th, 1962. However, key members of CPSU such as Anastas Mikoyan and Alexander Alexeev were worried about it. In the end, they were convinced by Khrushchev’s arguments and took part in the negotiations during the Missiles Crisis.

Khrushchev motivated the Soviet protection of Cuba as a preventive action to an imminent American invasion. His hypothesis was later confirmed by declassified documents which revealed a secret CIA operation, called Mongoose, planned for October 1962. Operation Mongoose meant secret undermining and sabotage actions against the Castro regime.

The Soviet leader involved Cuba in his foreign policy, in order to restore the balance of power in the international system. USSR was surrounded in Europe by American nuclear missiles, whereas its own nuclear arsenal was no match to the one owned by the US.  By deploying missiles to Cuba, Khrushchev aimed to gain concessions from the American president Kennedy. This way, the USSR agreed to take back its intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Cuba on condition that the US retired its missiles from Turkey. Khrushchev thought Kennedy would approach the matter reasonably and believed he would not risk a nuclear war, even though the US had a superior nuclear arsenal. In other words, the missiles were a simple warning for the US to acknowledge the USSR as an equal partner in the negotiations of international affairs.

At the same time, Khrushchev wished to restore the Soviet supremacy over China in the communist bloc. The Chinese were blaming the Soviets for not offering support to the Socialist revolutions. This was also a reaction to the American superior attitude in bilateral relations.

The Context of Khrushchev’s Ousting

Because Khrushchev did not have as many counsellors as the American Administration had, the Soviet diplomacy was much more exposed to errors whenever it planned and implemented foreign policy actions. Moreover, Khrushchev’s inability to control the Stalinist faction of the Politburo brought about his ousting from power. The Politburo members doubted Khrushchev’s ability to appropriately conduct the foreign policy of the USSR. The Soviet communists preferred the indirect participation in Third World’s conflicts to Khrushchev’s brinkmanship diplomacy.


Fursenko A., Naftali, Timothy J., One hell of gamble: Krushchev, Castro and Kennedy, New York, Ed.Norton, 1998, pp. 139-182