In the summer of 1962, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was looking for guidelines for his foreign policy. The thaw in relations with the West was finally behind us, and the consequences of the Berlin crisis were being felt. A year earlier, in the autumn, American and Soviet tanks stood facing each other for almost a day at Checkpoint Charlie in the very center of Berlin, ready for battle. On the evening of August 1, the head of the GDR government and party leader, Walter Ulbricht, told Khrushchev in Moscow that a year after the construction Berlin Wall they need to discuss some fundamental issues.
First broadcast plans Deutsche Welle radio broadcasts in Russian have not been preserved. But with a high degree of probability, Ulbricht’s visit to Moscow was reported in it. Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin demanded the withdrawal of the contingent of the three Western allied powers from Berlin. This would mean a gross violation of the so-called “four-party agreement on Berlin” and the leadership in Moscow was fully aware that Washington, Paris, and London could not agree to this under any circumstances.
Nuclear weapons as a threat on the world stage
It is here that one can draw the first parallels with the present. Didn’t the leadership of the Kremlin a few months ago again presented a completely unacceptable demands, clearly realizing that the addressee – the government in Washington – in no case will agree to them? Shortly before ordering an attack on Ukraine, Putin demanded that the West conduct a complete overhaul of the existing world order that had been established in post-Cold War Europe – which would lead to the dismantling of NATO. Absolutely unacceptable.
Khrushchev decided in the summer of 1962 to further escalate. His diplomats were negotiating with communist friends in Cuba to sign an agreement on military and other assistance. On a Caribbean island, right under the nose of the United States, Soviet nuclear weapons were to be deployed. The United States responded with all the political determination that pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.
But just here the parallel between yesterday and today disappears. Although President Putin, since the beginning of the war against Ukraine, has been talking about a possible use of nuclear weapons, these nuclear threats have remained and remain vague, so that Western observers see this as more of a gesture of intimidation. Although it affects some Westerners, it is pointless from a military point of view. Threats with a nuclear club – 60 years ago they were perceived differently.
Be careful with suggestive parallels
Russia is not the Soviet Union. Even if Russian soldiers display Soviet-era regimental colors during their bloody offensive in Ukraine. Even if the Russian historical policy of recent years consists in an ever greater manipulative embellishment of the image of the USSR. The Cold War we know from history cannot be compared to the new confrontation between East and West in the digital age. Comparisons are always lame, especially historical comparisons, even if they look like they prove that everything was once like that.
In the fall of 1962, the literary magazine Novy Mir published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Who is looking for parallels and comparisonslet one wonder if it is possible today, in 2022, to imagine that such dissident literature could get around Russian censorship? However, modern censorship also knows that its effectiveness is limited in the digital world. Information will always find its way – even to Russia, which is trying to block objectionable Internet sites. Russian technical Internet censorship turned out to be as ineffective as the attempts of the USSR jam the signal dw, broadcasting on shortwave 60 years ago. Even then, Solzhenitsyn’s texts could be listened to on DW radio.
The state of the world in 1962 was so deplorable that the Norwegian committee could not find anyone to award the Nobel Peace Prize. I wonder if anyone will get it this year – and if so, who. We will definitely let you know on all Russian-language platforms.
Posted by Christian Trippe, Head of Eastern Europe and Editor-in-Chief of DW Russia
The comment expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editors and Deutsche Welle in general.