Just for a little light reading lately, I’ve been tackling a tome on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. You may recall that’s a time when the world truly was on the brink of total nuclear annihilation. The government of Cuba had recently been overthrown by Fidel Castro and a cast of Communists masquerading as rebels. The bearded one had been almost immediately befriended by Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev and his Moscow minions.
As part of that newfound camaraderie, the Soviets began shipping nuclear-tipped missiles to the Caribbean island nation. With Florida a mere 90 miles away, this action was obviously taking place right under the noses of the United States. And then-President John Kennedy’s administration took a rather dim view of such proceedings.
Khrushchev at first vehemently denied there were any Soviet missiles of any kind in Cuba, and even when that lie became obvious, he vigorously denied any of them were capable of carrying nuclear warheads into the interior of the U.S. For about 10 days in October of 1962, the world really didn’t know it, but the total destruction of the planet was a distinct possibility.
According to the extensively-researched book I’m reading, it seems Khrushchev just rashly decided one day to put those missiles on Cuban shores. Castro was thrilled because he’d already been a target of one over-throw attempt by the U.S. (the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961) and felt having those nukes was good protection against further advances by the Americanos.
What no one really knew (communications were of the stone-age variety back then) was that the Soviets didn’t have nearly the firepower the rest of the world thought they did. The U.S. had so many more nuclear warheads that, while a first strike on U.S. soil would maybe have taken out a city or two (which, of course, is nothing to sneeze at), the retaliation by Washington would have left all of the Soviet Union a vast toxic wasteland for decades, if not longer.
This is a great oversimplification of the events, but at the very precipice of mutual devastation, Khrushchev backed down and withdrew his offensive missiles. But one of the main gists of the book is that it seems as if the Soviet leader really had no real plan other than to deliver the nukes to Cuba. He really didn’t want to go to war with the U.S., but once things escalated, he didn’t know how to save face and get out without looking either like a total fool on the world stage or an incompetent idiot to his own people, or both.
Does any of that scenario from 60 years ago sound the least bit familiar now? Substitute the name Putin for Khrushchev and see if that rings a bell. And instead of Cuba, the playing field is Ukraine. When the invasion occurred back in February, it was apparently supposed to be a quick-in, quick-out victory for Russia. Ukrainians obviously didn’t see it quite that way and so, ten months later, there doesn’t appear to be any easy answer to the problem.
Putin seems to think that Russia is still ranked among the number of huge superpowers. (Psst, Vlad. It isn’t.) The U.S. and China can definitely stake their claims at the top of the heavy-hitters heap, but Russia? Not so much. Yeah, it still has a vast arsenal of nuclear bombs, and it does continue to threaten their usage if things don’t improve in Ukraine, but are they really a viable superpower today?
Basically, all Russia has to offer the world is oil, gas, and nukes. The first two are currently being heavily sanctioned, and other than Iran and a couple more rogue states, it’s doubtful any other sane country is interested in the third resource.
However, if Vlad the Mad were to accept the fact that trying to run roughshod over Ukraine was a bit of a misstep, there may actually be a way out of the morass that will improve his image on the world stage substantially.
There are reports that Putin’s mother had him baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s rumored he wears a gold cross around his neck under his clothing and that he claims he was “miraculously saved” from a fire in his house many years ago. So, Vlad, here’s the idea. Tell the world that Russia is pulling out of Ukraine totally. Call it a “Peace on Earth” gesture that tends to be fitting at this time of year.
In one fell swoop, Mr. Putin, you’re not only seen as a really good guy, but countries just might start buying your oil and gas at full price again.
©MMXXII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer