Putin’s Nuclear Threats Evoke Cold War Tensions of the Cuban Missile Crisis
After American spy planes detected Soviet missile sites in Cuba in 1962, the world stood still as the two global superpowers faced off in a Cold War showdown, freighted with the prospect of nuclear weapons ending life as we knew it.
Leading up to the crisis, the United States had grown increasingly worried about Cuba falling under communist control. The American government’s efforts to unseat its leader, Fidel Castro, had further pushed the country into the arms of the Soviet Union.
After the missile sites were detected, President John F. Kennedy placed a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the delivery of military supplies. He demanded that the missiles be removed, and the sites destroyed.
Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, and Kennedy agreed to a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle the missile sites in exchange for a promise by the United States not to invade Cuba. Separately, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.
“Both Kennedy and Khrushchev realized very quickly that they were losing control of events,” said Michael Dobbs, a Cold War historian. “I think the main lesson of the Cuban missile crisis was that as soon as you start escalating a conflict, accidents can happen.”
Sixty years later, the United States and Russia are again in a risky standoff, this time over Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of nuclear “blackmail” and vowed to “use all means at our disposal” to defend his country. As the United States provides support to Ukraine, President Biden has said the conflict raises the “prospect of Armageddon’’ to the highest level since the Cuban missile crisis.
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