Sixty-eighth Chapter in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
Russia has always cloaked its intentions in maskirovka. Direct lies, misleading statements, and deceptive actions come naturally to any Russian government, like naming their Caribbean deployment after the Siberian river Anadyr.
Maskirovka was not invented by the Bolsheviks; it was not a Communist practice. It is Russian doctrine going back to the earliest Tsars.
First the Deceptions
From May to the beginning of September 1962, the Soviets relied on deception to mask ANADYR.
- They went to extraordinary lengths to disguise the movement of Soviet troops and missiles to their embarkation ports;
- they staged above-decks parties aboard Cuba-bound troop ships, with nurses playing prominent roles;
- they dressed Soviet military personnel in sports clothes before they disembarked in Cuban ports; and
- they exercised strict communications and signals discipline to conceal their units’ movements from the eavesdropping National Security Agency.
Then The Lies
I will use the initials JFK and NSK for the two leaders; all emphasis below is mine.
Sept. 4. NSK sent JFK a message via Ambassador Dobrynin, who passed the message to Bobby Kennedy: “The USSR will make no hostile or overt moves against the U.S. until after the November elections. The USSR has no intention of placing surface-to-surface missiles or any offensive weapons in Cuba.”
Sept. 6. NSK sent another message clearly intended for JFK via Dobrynin, who passed it to Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen: “Nothing will be undertaken before the American Congressional elections that would complicate the international situation or aggravate … tensions … between our two countries.” All arms shipments to Cuba “were defensive in nature and did not represent any threat to the United States.”
Sept. 6. When Secretary of the Interior Morris Udall visited NSK at his Georgian dacha, NSK asked him to assure President Kennedy that he would do nothing to precipitate a crisis over Berlin before the November Congressional elections in the United States. NSK also warned Udall (emphasis added), “So when Castro comes to us for aid, we give him what he needs for defense. He hasn't much modern military equipment, so he asked us to supply some. But only for defense. However, if you attack Cuba, that would create an entirely different situation. And it is unthinkable, of course, that a tiny nation like Cuba would ever attack the United States.”
Sept. 7. Ambassador Dobrynin told Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the UN: “Only defensive weapons are being deployed in Cuba.”
Sept. 11. TASS, the official Soviet news agency, issued a widely reported statement condemning U.S. overseas military bases while simultaneously asserting that Soviet military deployments to Cuba were purely defensive. The TASS statement boasted that the Soviet Union’s rockets were so powerful it had no need to deploy strategic weapons elsewhere.
Sept. 21. USSR Foreign Minister Gromyko stated, at the United Nations, “Cuba is not building up her forces to such a degree that she can pose a threat to the United States or … to any state of the Western Hemisphere.” He also threatened that any U.S. attack on Cuba or any ship bound for Cuba would result in War.
On or about Sept. 28. NSK instructed Georgi Bolshakov, Soviet Military Intelligence’s agent in Washington who was visiting the USSR, to give a message to JFK when he returned to Washington: NSK is “a man of his word” whose “word can be relied on.” Castro is receiving only defensive weapons, a necessity forced on the USSR and Cuba by U.S. belligerence.
When is an Offensive Weapon a Defensive Weapon?
The only flat-out lie in this catalog is Khrushchev’s Sept. 4th statement. He knew very well that Soviet strategic missiles would be arriving in Cuba four days later. The rest of the deliberately misleading statements about defensive weapons could be defended later on these grounds:
- The Soviets had placed strategic missiles in Cuba at Castro’s request to deter the United States from invading Cuba and overthrowing Castro. In that sense the missiles were indeed defensive.
- In doing so, the USSR was simply imitating the U.S. strategy of placing missiles in Turkey and Italy: to deter the other side from invading.
- If the United States protested that it had no intention of invading Cuba, Moscow and Havana had only to point to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the massive rehearsals of amphibious landings to overthrow a Caribbean dictator named “Ortsac” throughout the rest of 1961 and into September 1962. What were those rehearsals if preparations for the real thing: the overthrow of “Castro”?
- If the U.S. argued that its invasion plans were “contingencies” to be invoked only if needed, the other side could use exactly the same argument: the missiles in Cuba were also “contingencies,” to be used only if needed.
Did Anything Make the Soviet Missiles in Cuba Different from NATO’s Missiles in Turkey?
There was one significant difference. The NATO decision to place U.S. Jupiters in Turkey and Italy had been openly discussed by its members and widely reported by the media. The deployment was a completely aboveboard decision arrived at through the democratic process.
The Soviets had proceeded very differently. From May through August, they had cleverly hidden ANADYR from Western eyes. In September the Soviets lied repeatedly about their Cuban activities. They continued lying throughout October, even after the United States discovered the missiles and told the world about them.
The Soviet deployment of missiles to Cuba was the secret, clandestine, surreptitious, and misrepresented action of a police state. It was, in short, a thoroughly underhanded proceeding that stank of evil.
That was the only difference: but it spelled salvation for the U.S. and disaster for the USSR.
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Sources and Notes
Dino Brugioni provides an excellent explanation of maskirovka on pp. 88-91 of his Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of The Cuban Missile Crisis (Robert F. McCort, ed.). New York: Random House, 1991. These pages include a thumbnail sketch of Great Britain’s version of maskirovka during World War II. I add that while the United States certainly has used its own versions of maskirovka throughout its history, it never seems to do it as well as other nations.
The CIA’s attempt to conceal U.S. involvement in the Bay of Pigs operation (April 1961), or at least provide grounds for “plausible deniability,” is a good example of how poorly the U.S. practices maskirovka. That US-supported Cuban exiles were planning a coup started to leak out well before the operation began. See Peter Wyden’s Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. For an analysis of why the operation was such a miserable failure, see Peter Kornbluh, ed., Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba. New York: The New Press, 1998.
The September 4th message is cited in Lawrence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive Document Reader. New York: The New Press, 1998, p. 367; and in Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1971 (first published posthumously in 1968), 20-22.
The first September 6 message is cited in James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch. Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002, p. 492; in document #415 of Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X, Cuba (http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frusX/406_420.html); and in Michael R. Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991, p. 420.
The second Sept. 6 message is document 416 in FRUS X (URL above).
The Sept. 7 message is cited in Chang and Kornbluh, p. 367.
The Sept. 11 Tass message is cited in many sources: Blight et al, p. 492; Chang and Kornbluh, p. 367; and in Seymour Topping, “Kennedy Assailed. Moscow Asserts Bid to Call Reserves is Aggressive Step.” New York Times, Sept. 12, 1962, p. 1. The Tass statement is printed on p. 16 of this issue.
Gromyko’s September 21 statement was reported in Kathleen Teltsch, “Soviet Tells U.N. Attack on Cuba Would Mean War.” New York Times, September 22, 1962, p. 1. The texts of Gromyko’s statement and Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s reply appear on p. 2 of this issue. See also Blight et al, Cuba on the Brink, p. 493. Note: technically, Gromyko was not lying. Cuba was not building up its forces; the USSR was doing it for her.
The Sept. 28 statement by Khrushchev is cited in Crisis Years, p. 425. It is interesting that Bolshakov appears not to know about ANADYR.