Today is Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019

Today in History: 1953, Nikita Khrushchev elected Soviet leader

Six months after the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev succeeds him with his election as first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

On March 27, 1958, the Supreme Soviet – the Soviet legislature –voted unanimously to make First Secretary Khrushchev also Soviet premier, thus formally recognizing him as the undisputed leader of the USSR.

In foreign affairs, Premier Khrushchev’s stated policy was one of “peaceful coexistence” with the West. He said, “We offer the capitalist countries peaceful competition” and gave the Soviet Union an early lead in the space race by launching the first Soviet satellites and cosmonauts. A visit to the United States by Khrushchev in 1959 was hailed as a new high in U.S.-Soviet relations, but superpower relations would hit dangerous new lows in the early 1960s.

In 1960, Khrushchev walked out of a long-awaited four-powers summit in protest of U.S. spy plane activity over Russia, and in 1961 he authorized construction of the Berlin Wall as a drastic solution to the East German question.

Then, in October 1962, the United States and the USSR came close to nuclear war over the USSR’s placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. After 13 tense days, the Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end when Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the offensive weapons in exchange for a secret U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba.

The humiliating resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an agricultural crisis at home, and the deterioration of Soviet-Chinese relations due to Khrushchev’s moderate policies all led to growing opposition to Khrushchev in the party ranks.

On October 14, 1964, Leonid Brezhnev, Khrushchev’s protégé and deputy, organized a successful coup against him, and Khrushchev abruptly stepped down as first secretary and premier. He retired to obscurity outside Moscow and lived there until his death in 1971.

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