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Research Last Updated: Dec 19, 2020 - 11:05:09 AM

Anastas Mikoyan: Soviet First Responder and Smiling Diplomat
By Svetlana Savranskaya, National Secuiurity Archive, 18/12/20
Dec 19, 2020 - 11:03:36 AM

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Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan was born on November 25, 1895, in Armenia.  From a modest background and early revolutionary activity in Armenia he joined the Bolsheviks and eventually became one of the most significant statesmen of the Soviet Union. On the 125th anniversary of his birth, historians still debate his role in Soviet domestic and foreign policy. Soviet folklore had a saying about Mikoyan: “from Ilyich [Vladimir Ilyich Lenin] to Ilyich [Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev] without a heart attack or paralysis,” meaning that he managed to survive the changes of leadership in the USSR for five decades and died from natural causes in peaceful retirement, surrounded by his extensive family. This was no small feat for a prominent member of the Communist Party who lived through Stalinism.

This posting focuses on Mikoyan’s role in Soviet foreign policy, on his role as a key diplomat, who represented the Soviet Union in the most critical moments of its relations with an array of friends and opponents.  Today the National Security Archive publishes documents from Russian archives and Mikoyan’s personal archive, which have never been published before in any language.  They represent a tiny drop of the voluminous archival evidence that exists (all too often inaccessible) in Russia, the United States, and other countries that document Mikoyan’s diplomatic work.  Although Mikoyan never held a formal diplomatic post, he was sent by the Soviet leadership to negotiate on the most sensitive issues and put out fires in hot spots around the world including the United States, China, India, Pakistan, West and East Germany, Hungary, and most importantly—Cuba.  In many of those countries, long before Mikhail Gorbachev, he literally became the smiling face of the Soviet Union, Mr. Da, in striking contrast to Andrei Gromyko’s Mr. Nyet.

In 1936, Mikoyan discovered the real America for the Soviet Union.  He went to the United States as People’s Commissar of the Food Industry to learn about food production and consumption in the U.S. and with an eye to what of the United States’ best practices could be adopted for the USSR.  As a result of his trip, the Soviet Union purchased U.S. industrial equipment and started its own industrial production of sausages, ice cream, hamburgers, and even popcorn.  In a stunning report to the Central Committee [Document 1], Mikoyan, although a Soviet true believer, was not afraid to praise U.S. practices and deliver sharp criticism of the Soviet economy and food industry.  Mikoyan’s role in shaping that industry and the culture of public food services in his country has not been adequately addressed in the historiography.

Mikoyan’s star as a prominent diplomat really rose with Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign after the momentous XX Congress of the Communist Party  in 1956.  That same year, Khrushchev relied on Mikoyan to carry his “peace offensive” to the world.  Mikoyan traveled extensively to deliver the message of peaceful coexistence, to honestly address the mistakes of Stalin’s foreign policy and the cult of personality, and to repair relations with the West.  Although, technically, Mikoyan was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, he probably was as influential as Khrushchev himself (and certainly more capable as a diplomat) in Soviet foreign policy.  He was trusted with the most sensitive issues such as briefing Jawaharlal Nehru on Khrushchev’s secret speech to the XX party congress (Document 3), resolving issues of arms sales disputes among the countries of the socialist camp (Document 2), trying to mediate the growing tensions in Hungary in the fall of 1956 prior to their revolution, and establishing trade and security relations with the countries of the Middle East.  He participated in practically every important meeting with foreign dignitaries who visited the Soviet Union, such as Shah Reza Pahlavi (Document 4), Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon (Document 10).

In 1959, Mikoyan was sent on an important mission to the United States—to improve U.S.-Soviet relations, start a dialog on disarmament, expand trade, and address the crucial issue of the time—the ongoing Berlin crisis.  In the United States, ostensibly as a private citizen—“a man on holiday”—he met the entire roster of top U.S. officials including President Dwight Eisenhower (Document 8), Vice President Richard Nixon (Document 6) and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (Documents 5 and 7).  In his meetings with U.S. officials, Mikoyan pushed for a settlement of the German question, expanding U.S.-Soviet contacts at all levels, negotiating an end to the Cold War, and especially expanding economic ties, which would allow the USSR to import Western technology and consumer goods. The documents published here today include a selection from the State Department’s invaluable Foreign Relations of the United States volumes to provide context and the American perspective on these important discussions.  

In 1962, Khrushchev sent Mikoyan on his most important mission—to negotiate a conclusive resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was publicly settled by the Soviet leader’s announcement on October 28 that the Soviet Union would withdraw its offensive weapons from Cuba in return for a U.S. non-invasion pledge.  But Fidel Castro was embittered at the idea of being abandoned by his superpower patron and the Kremlin badly needed to patch things up with this important Third World ally.  In November 1962, Mikoyan essentially became “the man who saved the world,” as he persuaded Castro to let the remaining Soviet nuclear weapons (which the U.S. had been unaware of) leave the island without further aggravating the dangerous situation (Document 11) and finalized all details regarding inspections and mutual assurances with top U.S. officials including President John F. Kennedy (Document 12).


Mikoyan’s last trip to the United States was on a sad occasion—he was sent by Khrushchev to pay last respects to President Kennedy, the man he had just negotiated with a year earlier.   At the reception, Mikoyan had a brief emotional meeting with Jacqueline Kennedy, describing how “nearly sobbing” she asked Mikoyan to continue what her husband and Khrushchev started in search for peace (Document 13).

The National Security Archive benefitted greatly over the years from advice and donations of documents from our long-time partner, the late Sergo Mikoyan, Russian historian and son of Anastas Mikoyan.

The Documents

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Document 01
Anastas Mikoyan Report to the CC CPSU on His Trip to the United States [Excerpt]
Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation
In 1936, Anastas Mikoyan, people’s commissar of the food industry, visited the United States to investigate how the food industry was organized in the leading capitalist economy with a view to adopting best practices for the Soviet Union. This never-before published report to the Central Committee of the CPSU, written as a stenogram of his live presentation, shows Mikoyan’s astonishment with the level and culture of food production and consumption in the United States and his efforts to stay within the limits of Soviet ideology while describing the United States’ clear superiority. Mikoyan praises Americans as “amazing organizers,” from whom “we need to learn.”

In comparison, he says, “we still build the economy like schoolchildren who need to learn – and all of us are learning but we have not finished our studies yet.” He notes that a Soviet worker is only 40 percent as productive as an American and that factories in the United States do not employ nearly as many (superfluous) auxiliary staff as in his country. He makes a stunning conclusion that the Soviet people “cannot catch up with American earning power and American living standards if we don't readjust.” With his keen eye, he notices the differences in levels of service, even at gas stations, where attendants clean windshields, check the oil, and provide water “free of charge,” and the “very many public bathrooms […] are very clean.”

He remarks on the relationship between workers and directors at factories, which is strikingly different from the one in the Soviet Union, being respectful and even friendly. He talks about conveniences that exist for regular people, ranging from the organization of workplace cafeterias, ease of communications, and shopping. Strikingly for a Soviet official, he talks publicly about the total absence of hygienic supplies for Soviet female workers, comparing it to the situation in the United States where such conveniences are available everywhere.

While praising numerous U.S. practices, however, Mikoyan is very careful to mention many times the superiority of the Soviet system. American public restrooms may be clean, but metros are cleaner in the USSR and in general “Americans are dirty.” Worker-management relations also seem warm because the “bourgeois” are “smart” and able to “fool the workers ingeniously” with an eye toward reaping “enormous” profits. In all, “[t]he Soviet system compared to the American one is a gift from God.”

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Document 02
Memorandum of Conversation between Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan and Mátyás Rákosi
Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation
Mikoyan is sent to Hungary immediately after the conclusion of the XX Congress of the CPSU to resolve economic issues between the two countries. The conversation, which shines an interesting light on the nature of relations between Moscow and its Central European allies, is recorded by the Soviet Ambassador to Hungary (and future KGB chief and CPSU general secretary) Yuri Andropov. After addressing the issue of payments for Austrian property, Mikoyan turns to the more difficult problem—the purchase of T-34 tanks from Czechoslovakia, which Hungary initially agreed to but refuses to complete. Hungarian leader Mátyás Rákosi calls the Czech tanks “outdated,” even though Voroshilov reminds him they are still in use by the Soviet Army. Mikoyan proposes a compromise solution and settles the issue. Turning to the balance of trade, he notes that “Hungary refuses to buy machinery and other industrial equipment from the Soviet Union,” but insists that the USSR does not want to impose those goods on Hungary. However, when Rákosi asks for aid including a loan of $20 million and 100 thousand tons of wheat, Mikoyan responds negatively and Voroshilov advises the Hungarians to “economize,” especially as far as foreign goods are concerned.

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Document 03
From the Diary of Anastas Mikoyan: Telegram about Mikoyan Conversation with Jawaharlal Nehru
Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation
A month after visiting Hungary, Mikoyan is in India, on a mission to improve relations with this critically important Asian nation, but also to explain the outcomes of the landmark XX Party Congress, where Nikita Khrushchev denounced the many excesses of Joseph Stalin. After Mikoyan informs the Indian leader about the substance of Khrushchev’s secret speech to the congress, Nehru asks several key questions, including whether the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the result of Stalin's cult of personality. Nehru and Mikoyan talk about changing Soviet views on the need for revolutionary violence and the nature of socialism in different countries. Listening to Mikoyan’s explanations, Nehru concludes that “the final picture of socialism should represent a variety of systems, and not complete uniformity,” to which Mikoyan agrees and cites variations in reforms and economic policies in the countries of the socialist bloc. To Nehru’s question about the break-up of Soviet relations with Yugoslavia, Mikoyan responds that “it was Stalin’s whim, that other government members did not share that opinion, but they could not do anything.”

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Document 04
Protocol Record of Negotiations of K.E. Voroshilov, N.A. Bulganin, N.S. Khrushchev, A.I. Mikoyan with the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Source: State Archive of the Russian Federation
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi visits Moscow to take advantage of Khrushchev’s new peace offensive and to see post-XX Congress changes for himself. He is received by the entire top Soviet leadership. Khrushchev and his entourage are eager to improve relations with Iran, which is seen as firmly in the Western camp after the U.S. and Britain helped to restore the Shah to the throne three years earlier. But the thorn in Moscow’s side is Iran’s decision to join the Baghdad Pact. Here, as in other conversations, Mikoyan addresses the issue of mistakes made during Stalin’s rule and the cult of personality. When the Shah cites Soviet (and tsarist Russian) transgressions against Iran, Mikoyan responds: “we regret the erroneous acts that took place then; but to tell the truth, those present here should not be held personally responsible for these mistakes.”

Mikoyan is especially concerned about the Middle East and South Asia. He talks about his trip to Pakistan and India and his conversations with the Turkish leadership about the need to improve relations with Middle Eastern countries. The main problem for the Soviet Union is that the Kremlin views the Baghdad Pact as a threat to its southern borders. The transcript conveys the tension in the room as Mikoyan and his colleagues voice their strong objections to Iran’s decision to join the pact. Since they grant that they cannot force Tehran to leave it, they want the Shah at least to give a public assurance that “Iran will not allow its territory to be used against the Soviet Union.” The Shah is palpably uncomfortable under the pressure and “stays silent for some time” before providing various justifications, including somewhat feebly reminding his hosts of his respect for the father of Soviet Communism: “You must know that there is not a single bad word said about Lenin in Iran.” Finally, he offers the statement: “If Iran itself is not dangerous for you, but you think that you may be in danger from the territory of Iran, then I declare that while I am alive, no danger will threaten you from Iran.”

In this conversation, Premier Khrushchev displays his usual braggadocio about the military might of the Soviet Union, making a point of reminding Mohammad Reza of the consequences to neighbors if they act aggressively against it. Along with references to his own concerns about the historical threat posed by Russia, the Shah repeatedly mentions the danger of nuclear weapons and the need for the Soviet Union and the United States to agree to abolish them.

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Document 05
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier of the USSR Anastas Mikoyan and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 60
In January 1959 Mikoyan arrives in the United States ostensibly on a personal trip but actually to promote Khrushchev’s peaceful coexistence, improve trade relations, and prepare for Khrushchev’s trip to the United States in September. In this meeting with Secretary Dulles, Mikoyan signals the Soviet willingness to negotiate and settle all of the most important issues in U.S.-Soviet relations in pursuit of peace and disarmament, and tells Dulles that he is “a man on holiday” with a completely flexible schedule to set up more meetings.

To Dulles’ question about the international communist movement, Mikoyan asserts that the Soviet Union does not interfere in the internal affairs of others, that it has good relations with states with very different political systems, like South Africa or Afghanistan, and does not pass judgment on those systems, but that its natural sympathies lie with communist movements. Obviously referring to Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign, he states that “in the USSR there are no political prisoners.”

The most important part of the conversation deals with Germany and West Berlin. Mikoyan defuses the tension created by Khrushchev’s announcement of November 1958 that in six months, if Western powers do not agree on withdrawing all foreign troops from Berlin, he will transfer all authority on Berlin to East Germany. He assures Dulles that “the fact that the Soviet Union talked about six months—which was long enough for any negotiations on the matter—did not mean that this was an ultimatum or a threat.” Dulles, however, sounds more belligerent, saying that the United States “did not want war over Berlin, nor for that matter, over anything; but we were not prepared to avoid war by retreating wherever we were under pressure,” referring to what could happen if the Soviets pressured the United States to withdraw from West Berlin. In response, Mikoyan assures him again that the “Soviet Government was not asking anyone to withdraw, it was asking for the problem to be settled by negotiation.” These reassurances are welcomed by the U.S. side and create a positive context for the rest of the visit.

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Document 06
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier of the USSR Anastas Mikoyan and Vice President of the U.S. Richard Nixon
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 61
This is a “meet and greet” conversation between Mikoyan, Richard Nixon, and other high level representatives, focusing generally on U.S.-Soviet relations. Nixon and Mikoyan discuss the political situation in the U.S., in particular bipartisan agreement on foreign policy, with Nixon noting that “in the area of foreign policy, Congress supported the President and the Secretary of State on major issues.” Nixon mentions areas of agreement between the U.S. and the USSR, and Mikoyan highlights the importance of frequent meetings and contacts at all levels to address the prejudices that stand in the way of improving relations. The two additionally discuss propaganda, the “Hungarian question,” air incidents, issues relating to the United Nations, the concept of preventive war, and “the German problem.”

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Document 07
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 62 and 63
Mikoyan and Dulles meet again for practically a full day of conversations focusing on the German question. Dulles mentions the bipartisan U.S. view on the issue, which Mikoyan agrees with, adding that he thought the American position “required a change from a rigid to a more flexible attitude.” Mikoyan discusses the importance of negotiations, and says that Berlin could be a “testing ground for cooperation between us instead of a hot-bed of aggression.” Dulles speaks of the U.S. also having a strong interest in negotiating not only about Berlin and a peace treaty, but also about German reunification, while the “Soviet peace treaty draft was a call to perpetuate the division of Germany.” The two discuss other issues surrounding Germany, such as free elections, alleged Western attempts to incite turmoil, and the economic situation.

In the afternoon, as the two continue to discuss Berlin. Dulles warns his Soviet counterpart that the “Western Powers would not acquiesce in any Soviet turnover of responsibilities in the Eastern zone to the GDR.” Mikoyan notes that the Soviets are proposing establishing a free city in Berlin. Dulles adds that he has authorization from the United Kingdom and France to state that they support the U.S. stance on the issue. Mikoyan responds that Dulles’ “reference to the authorization of our Allies might have stemmed from some apprehension on the Secretary’s part that he had been leading them forward and that they had been hanging on his coattails.”

These conversations show how alarmed the U.S. leadership was about the Khrushchev “ultimatum” on Berlin and help explain why even during the Cuban Missile Crisis the Kennedy administration connected the Soviet actions with Berlin. Mikoyan’s visit helped allay the worst fears about possible Soviet action on Berlin in 1959 and prepared the way for the foreign ministers’ conference on Berlin in May 1959.

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Document 08
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan and President Dwight Eisenhower
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 64
After traveling around the United States, Mikoyan gets a meeting with the president. Mikoyan argues for disarmament and the overall need to improve relations. The Soviet representative complains about very high military spending by the United states and suggests “we should end the cold war. This was the reason for the military appropriations by the Congress and the Soviet Union did not consider that it was to blame for the cold war.” The bulk of the conversation is about Germany and West Berlin. Mikoyan again pushes the Soviet position, saying that all foreign troops should leave Berlin, the occupation should end, and a peace treaty should be signed. Secretary Dulles intervenes, saying that “one of the difficulties is that it is believed in Germany and elsewhere that the government in East Germany was not a Government of Germans but one that was wholly imposed upon them and hated by the Germans. It was a form of masked occupation.” President Eisenhower agrees with Mikoyan that nobody wants war and that armament levels are too high, but he does not budge on Berlin, noting repeatedly that this conversation is not a negotiation, that he needs to consult with allies, and that experts should be involved in negotiations. The American bottom line is no troop withdrawal from West Berlin and no peace treaty at this point.

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Document 09
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan and Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs C. Douglas Dillon
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 65
This conversation focuses on the desirability to expand trade between the U.S. and the USSR. Under Secretary of State Dillon stresses the importance of relaxed tensions in gradually expanding trade. He also discusses Nikita Khrushchev’s recent letter on expanding trade, which featured many Soviet items already produced in the U.S. Dillon also notes that business negotiations are conducted by private companies in the U.S. Mikoyan disagrees with this point, noting that “so far as the Soviet Union is concerned, they [private companies and firms] are tied hand and foot by the State Department.” Mikoyan makes far-reaching demands about granting the USSR most-favored nation status, providing credits and removing all restrictions on trading in strategic materials. Dillon and Mikoyan discuss patent claims, the U.S. ban on Soviet furs, and chemical firms. The lend-lease program is also discussed at length, with disagreements emerging over Soviet payments.

In this conversation, Mikoyan is hardly recognizable—instead of his usual charming and eloquent persona, he acts as an assertive and even aggressive negotiator, accusing the United States of waging a Cold War in the sphere of trade. The conversation so worries U.S. officials that it is discussed specifically at a National Security Council meeting on January 22 after Mikoyan leaves the United States. At that meeting Secretary of State Dulles describes how in his conversation with Dillon, “Mikoyan had violently denounced Dillon’s proposals for a gradual improvement in trade relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Indeed, he went on to make of Mr. Dillon far-reaching demands which he must have known would have to be refused.”[1]

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Document 10
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier of the USSR Anastas Mikoyan and Vice President Richard Nixon in Moscow
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 97
This conversation takes place during Vice President Nixon’s famous visit to the Soviet Union and covers U.S.-Soviet relations, a recent Congressional resolution on captive nations, colonialism, and Mikoyan’s meetings during his visit to the U.S. in January. Mikoyan’s discussions with Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Douglas Dillon [see Document 10] become a major focus of the conversation, with Mikoyan repeating his point that “he can see that the State Department is systematically conducting cold war in trade.” Mikoyan also notes that his view of the situation is that “the United States could not do without the ‘cold war’ because the ‘cold war’ apparently keeps its allies in line, prevents a breakdown of military pacts and makes it possible to have high taxes for the production of armaments.” Nixon notes that “the President is convinced that trade is one of the means towards consolidating peace throughout the world.” The meeting ends with Nixon stating that the trade situation will improve, but “it could improve more rapidly if the political situation improves and develops faster.”

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Document 11
Record of Conversation between A.I. Mikoyan and F. Castro, 22 November 1962.
Source: Sergo Mikoyan Personal Archive donated to the National Security Archive
This crucial conversation, which lasted over four hours in the evening of November 22, more than a month after the start of the Cuban missile crisis, settled all major remaining issues between Moscow and Havana—most importantly, the fate of the remaining tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. Mikoyan admitted that they were still in Cuba and that the Americans indeed had no idea that they were deployed, but that the Soviet Union decided to pull them back due to what he disingenuously claimed was an "unpublished law" prohibiting the transfer of nuclear weapons to third countries. This memcon provides an extraordinary glimpse into Soviet-Cuban relations and helps one understand the depth of Castro's humiliation at Soviet hands during the crisis. For him, the resolution meant that he had been abandoned by his Soviet ally and left to the mercy of the American imperialists—because Cuban security now depended not on powerful Soviet weapons but on U.S. non-invasion assurances, which the Cubans were hardly inclined to trust. The document also shows Mikoyan as a masterful negotiator with an incredible grasp of the issues, who could be empathetic and tough at the same time.

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Document 12
Memorandum of Conversation between Deputy Premier of the USSR Anastas Mikoyan and President John Kennedy
Source: Sergo Mikoyan Personal Archive donated to the National Security Archive
In this remarkably candid conversation, Kennedy and Mikoyan are trying to settle the remaining issues of the Cuban Missile Crisis, especially the wording of the declaration or separate statements that would include pledges of non-invasion and no introduction of nuclear weapons. Kennedy raises the issue of Soviet lies about deployment of missiles in Cuba and Mikoyan responds that the weapons were deployed for defensive purposes and moreover, “wishing to not complicate the position of the president,” Khrushchev decided to inform him about the deployment confidentially immediately after the elections. Mikoyan assures the U.S. president that all offensive weapons have been removed and therefore the Soviet side has fulfilled its obligations. The disagreement centers on the U.S. wording tying the non-invasion pledge to Cuban behavior in the hemisphere, including that it would refrain from “subversive actions.” Mikoyan tells the president: “You want to continue subversive work against Cuba and at the same time keep the ‘right’ to attack Cuba should Castro want to respond in kind.” In the end, Kennedy agrees that the language could be softened and that after the settlement of the crisis the United States and the Soviet Union should engage in improving bilateral relations and reducing the threat of war.

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Document 13
Mikoyan Coded Telegram to the CC CPSU
Source: Woodrow Wilson Center Digital Archive, Document 119514
Exactly a year after leaving Cuba for the United States, and on his birthday, Mikoyan attends the funeral ceremony for President Kennedy and a White House reception. He gives the Kremlin an emotional report of a brief encounter with Jacqueline Kennedy at the end of the reception. Mikoyan says she “clasped” his hand in both of hers, and said “with great emotion and nearly sobbing” that her husband and Khrushchev “could have been successful in the search for peace,” and that now the Soviet Union should continue and “bring it to completion.” Mikoyan, who lost his wife of 50 years when he was in Cuba, was touched and impressed by Jackie.  He concludes his telegram: “Her fortitude is most impressive.”


[1] Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, v. X, part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Document 67

Source:Ocnus.net 2020

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