INT: Could you tell me what you were worried about?
OT: Well, I would say that I wasn't the only one worried. By the end of the week, Khrushchev started getting very worried, because he realised very clearly that the Americans wouldn't reconcile themselves to this thing, and that they would be continuing mounting pressure on pressure to get the missiles out in one way or another through some violent action or through some political action. And by the time Saturday came, the 27th, Khrushchev was particularly worried by the fact that the U-2 plane was shot down over Cuba. It was shot down through the command of some medium-ranked officer and as a result of that, Khrushchev started thinking that something else like that might happen which would plunge the two sides into a real conflict.
INT: Did you tell your family anything about (Overlap) what was happening?
OT: (Overlap) Me? No, I did not. No. It was a bad summer for me. (Laughs) We were spending our holiday with my wife in the GDR, in the German Democratic Republic, and I was constantly thinking about what was going to happen, but I had no authority to tell my wife about it.
INT: Did the Russian population know much about what was going on during this period?
OT: I think no, and I think there was much less worrying about it among the Russian public, because they had less information than did the Americans. By that time, in the United States there were all sorts of... in schools, children were going through some ... what shall I call it?...
INT: Training tests?
OT: Training tests, something like that. whereas nothing like that was happening in the Soviet Union.
INT: Just before the Saturday, Khrushchev sent a long telegram to Kennedy. Could you describe what that telegram was about, and how it came to be written?
OT: Well, by that time I think certainly Khrushchev was looking for a way out. That must have been about Thursday or something like that. And in that telegram, there was a clear hint - even more than a hint - that he was looking for a political way out of the situation, and a hint that under certain conditions, the Soviets would be willing to withdraw the offensive weapons, as the Americans used to call them. but then the next day, he sent another telegram... (Clears throat) anomessage to Kennedy, rather wherein that idea was stated in even clearer terms, but it was attached to the idea of American missiles being withdrawn from Turkey, because by that time there was an article by Walter Lipton putting forth that idea as a way out: tit for tat, Turkey and Cu. And I believe that that idea was discussed in some way among the Americans, and probably reached Moscow also. So Khrushchev thought that if the withdrawal from Turkey could be incorporated in a general agreement between the two sides, that would look very good for the Soviet Union, even better than a simple decision by the United States not to attack Cuba. So he put that through in the message. But that upset the Americans very much, because although they too were thinking about withdrawing - in fact, I think the decision to withdraw American missiles from Turkey had been taken even before that - but they did not want to be a part of the deal, first of all because Turkey was their ally, and promising any such thing to the Soviets would not look good as far as their allies were concerned.
INT: So it was definitely... I mean, one of the things that caused America quite a lot of concern at the time, from what I've been told, is that the tone of the two messages seemed very different - but they were both written by Khrushchev.
OT: I think so, yes. Not written, - he dictated. He usually dictated his messages, and then a group of us would go through and polish them up.
INT: During this period, in your writings you mention the espionage messages, that they were also being received here in the Soviet Union, but there were messages coming through from other sources, indicating at one point, I believe, that America was about to invade. Do you remember any of those coming through?
OT: Well, there were all sorts of messages, even some referring to what a barman had said somewhere (Laughs) in Washington DC. (Coughs) But (Coughs) what was more worrying was the conversation which Dobrynin had with Robert Kennedy on Saturday, I believe, wherein Robert Kennedy said very directly that there were people around the President who were looking for a fight, and that unless something was done within a very short time it might lead to very, very, very serious consequences.
INT: How was that message received here?
OT: With great nervousness. (Laughs)
INT: Could you tell me... How was that message first... Did you pick up that message?
OT: Yes. You see, usually my office was in the Kremlin, but formerly I was assistant to Khrushchev as chairman of the Council of Ministers, whereas he had another office in the Central Committee, although most of the time he spent in the Kremlin. But all the material, all the messages and what not, first came to the office in the Central Committee. So by that time I moved there, and spent both days and nights there. That message came later on Sunday, that telegram from Dobrynin, about his meeting with Robert Kennedy, came on Sunday during the meeting of the Politburo. And I was called to the phone, and Gromyko's chief of Gromyko's Secretariat read it out to me over the phone, and I took those notes and went to the room where the Politburo was sitting and read [it] out. And that was, I would say, the last thing that led to the decision to accept Kennedy's terms that he would be willing to guarantee that there would be no attack on Cuba, but that the Soviet Union should withdraw all offensive weapons from Cuba. That was on Sunday, Sunday morning.
INT: Could you tell me what the mood was... in the room?
OT: (Overlap) The mood was very nervous, I would say, by then because there was this message from Dobrynin about Robert Kennedy, who by the way said that this was not an ultimatum, but (Clears throat & laughs) it was an ultimatum in other terms, perhaps. That was one thing. The other thing was a message from Castro which came late Saturday, wherein Castro said that he was expecting either an air strike against the missile sites, or a direct invasion within the next 48 or 72 hours, I think he said. And all that, taken together created a very nervous mood. And then there was a rather amusing incident that took... Uh oh, uh oh!
OT: Sabotage! (Laughs)
INT: Could I ask you to pick it up for me, sir?
INT: If you could say that you came into the room and read the ambassador's...
OT: Dobrynin's... yes. Well, having taken down what Gromyko's secretary told me about the message from Dobrynin, I went into the room where the Politburo was sitting and read out the message. And that created some additional nervousness, although I wouldn't say that this nervousness was in any way... how shall I put it?...
INT: Panic or...?
OT: No, no. But there was a feeling that people were nervous by that time. Uh oh!