Lee, Marina and Nikita

LHOHaving read an evocative and succinct account by Tony Thomas of his visit to the Dallas Book Depository Museum, I remembered the half-forgotten story my Aunt Lilian told me. It just so happened that she was an engineer at the Minsk radio factory when  Lee Harvey Oswald “worked” there. Everyone called him  “that American” and despised him, this lanky, funny-looking speaker of fluent but heavily accented Russian who one day simply appeared out of the blue, immediately being lavished with luxuries and privileges his workmates dare not dream about.  

The story of Kennedy’s assassin starts with Oswald’s defection to the USSR, where he applies for a political asylum. His appearance at the Minsk radio factory is a key part of that melodrama, whose first act played out at one of the Moscow hotels, where Lee Harvey faked a suicide attempt by scratching his wrist in a bathtub after being told, allegedly, that his application for asylum had been denied. Later on, this farce gave the KGB ammunition in its bid to persuade the Americans that Moscow had nothing to do with the assassination, apart from granting asylum to a half-crazed American purely from the goodness of its collectivist heart.  For argument’s sake, lets believe their story and swallow the line that the Soviets were so flush with altruism that a skin wound inspire such a compassionate and gooey response.  Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of psychiatry would have recognised the suicide attempt as a prime symptom of a borderline personality disorder. Such a person would represent a prime candidate for manipulation and, thus, a potentially useful asset, the equivalent in intelligence terms of a disposable syringe.

To give the appearance that, apart from being an object of their charity, authorities took no interest in Oswald, he was shuffled off to a province far away from Moscow and tucked away in a nondescript factory. Well imagine that! At a time when the Soviet Union was chronically short of foreign-language speakers, a native English speaker with an American accent (who would be of inestimable value to any propaganda department) was sent to work on a production line.  Before defecting, Oswald was a part of the secret radio detail at the American military airfield on Okinawa, where U-2 spy planes operated. Is it credible that the Soviets, having sucked this defector dry, were initially ill disposed to letting him remain in their country? What kind of a signal would that have sent to potential defectors?

Anyway, according to my aunt, Oswald was earning  a salary bigger than the factory’s director, not bothering to attend ideology seminars and exempt from the mandatory unpaid work on weekends that was intended to instill the habit of sacrifice for the revolutionary cause.  Actually, Oswald did not bother to work at all, according to Aunt Lilian, who was scathing about the defector from capitalist oppression. She described him as a lazy, pretentious, patronising and disdainful, a man who was presented upon his arrival in Minsk with a self-contained flat in the nicest part of town and, almost inconceivably, the supreme luxury of a car – all the accoutrements of the elite, in other words. On top of that, Oswald was also getting a special salary supplement from the Soviet Red Cross as a political refugee. While his monthly salary was in the vicinity of 1500 roubles, his Minsk workmates were taking home sixty.  According to Aunt Lilian, rather than turn up for work, Oswald was, more often than not, to be found chasing girls and hosting drunken parties in his flat. Nobody really  expected him to work once it became clear that he was in a category all his own. As we now know, Oswald fate’s ordained much bigger things than valves and radio parts. After a while, Oswald  re-applied for his US citizenship and returned to the USA with wife Marina

Ah, the lovely and enigmatic Marina Oswald, nee Prusakova. The first thing to bear in mind is that she had  a family connection with the core of the Soviet elite, being niece to a colonel in the  Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del (NVD), the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  To fall in love with a foreigner was a heinous crime for any Soviet citizen, yet Marina was openly and freely going out with one. Nobody harassed her or her beau. This would not have happened, could not have happened, without the blessing and protection of the KGB’s endorsement of the love match. They wed after only six weeks of courting, with her spending half of that time besidet Oswald’s hospital bed during what was presented as treatment for a sinus problems. (Three weeks? Must have been a hell of a case of sinusitis!)

Given the nature of her love-at-first-sight relationship — with a foreigner despised and detested by his purported workmates — it would have destroyed her uncle’s MVD career. That’s the way things worked in Soviet days.

Then, incredibly, not only is Oswald allowed to return to the US, Marina is granted permission to leave with him. Just like that! Remember, the mere desire to emigrate from the Worker’ Paradise was regarded as treason. One only has to recall the incredibly harsh prison sentences so often meted to those who fell in love with foreigners to grasp that special rules were applied Mrs. Oswald, nee Prusakova,

Why was it made so easy for her? The only plausible explanation, for my money, is that Marina was a part of the “control” system designed and painstakingly established to make sure that Oswald did as told.

Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev — inoffensive, short and fat, often derided, always treated with contempt by other CPSU Politburo members — came to power in 1953 after the Stalin’s death. Artfully, he had cultivated the impression that he presented no real threat to ambitious rivals. By their deluded reckoning this short, ugly, clown of a simple peasant could not be regarded as a contender. It was this very ruse which helped Khrushchev win the top spot.  He went on preside over numerous USSR achievements  and disasters. He was directly responsible for suppressing the Hungarian revolution in 1956, the split with China in 1958 and the Berlin Wall’s erection three years later.  Along the way he murdered scores of his own compatriots during the Novochercassk  uprising. He was a Communist who believed in Marxism-Leninism in much the same way that contemporary Muslim radicals believe in the word of the Quran: literally.

On top of all that, Khrushchev was very much a product of Stalin’s system of coercion , which hung upon the ruthless and relentless manipulation of the weak and vulnerable.  The political system, of which Khrushchev was a prime practitioner, was built upon its capacity to remove inconvenient people permanently and for good.

Khrushchev also knew humiliation, having been once ordered by Stalin to dance and caper for the amusement of Politburo colleagues. That and similar experiences taught him to master the art of the false smile, as when, during his visit with Mao Tze Dong, the Chinese dictator insisted the pair swim together, Mao knowing full well that his guest did not know how to swim. An infuriated Khrushchev responded by withdrawing all Soviet aid, a milestone on the road to border conflicts that saw the fraternal workers of Russia and Chinese troop exchange shots.

Khrushchev’s personal grievances sometimes translated into political assassinations abroad, each killing sanctioned by the Politburo. This practice was discontinued  only after the resounding disclosures by the repentant killer Bogdan Stashinski. The Politburo was not unduly worried about  the many blunders by “Our dear Nikita Sergeevich”, as a sycophantic film of the period dubbed him. His failure to supply bread to the country without turning to the capitalist West for grain was high on their list of concerns. Then came the blink-first backdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose price was humiliation for no gains whatsoever. This was the most fundamental and  obvious loss of face to date – a blow worsened by the fact that defeat was inflicted by the same man Khrushchev had bested in Vienna. Khrushchev had bullied JFK openly and loudly, inviting the whole world to enjoy his mockery. What Khrushchev did not know was that his own security  and Rocket Forces chiefs were supplying the US with documents that proved conclusively how weak and ill-equipped the Soviet Union’s armed forces really were. Only the heroism of these insiders and the insights they provided, despite immense personal danger, prevented a nuclear catastrophe.

News footage of those Soviet ships turning meekly away from Havana under the watchful eyes of the US Navy completed the embarrassing spectacle. But none of those debacles was enough to see Khrushchev’s colleagues drop him through the trapdoor. Not until the Kennedy assassination. It takes some time to form alliances, to prepare the plot, to execute coup d’etat. By the time of the assassination in November, 1963, the Politburo had seen enough. Less than 12 months later, on October 15, 1964, Dear Nikita was ousted — just as soon, as I see it, that the threat of an American retaliation for the assassination had subsided.

According to the analysis of dissident historian Victor Suvorov, himself a defector from the Soviet secret service, the Cuban Missile Crisis was based, in Khrushchev’s mind, on the following scenario:

  • Ineffective Soviet rockets — and they were ineffective, but this is another story — are placed in the immediate vicinity of the continental United States, threatening America with the prospect of a nuclear strike for which there would be no warning. nuclear war.
  • In the follow-up  negotiations, Khrushchev demands  that the West Berlin to be incorporated into the GDR and the Western occupying forces withdrawn. The vibrant example of a prosperous, better functioning West Berlin, situated right in the middle of the Soviet Empire, was an indictment of the decrepit totalitarian system that surrounded. Therefore, just as Israel’s example condemns neighbouring Arab states, the view was West Berlin had to be destroyed as an outpost of the West
  • The USSR removes its rockets from Cuba in exchange for an incorporation of the West Berlin into the consolidated Socialist camp, ensuring its long term survival.

The failure to accomplish this plan and subsequent international humiliation infuriated Khrushchev and not only for the personal reasons.  It was the refusal of the West to abandon West Berlin that, prompted decades later by the resolve of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II,heralded the subsequent dissolution of the Socialist system.

But that happy day belonged to the future. We can never know, but the idea that Khrushchev might well have countenanced and initiated the assassination of the latest man in the long line of foes who had humiliated him rings true to me.

Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978


  • Andrew Griffiths

    A fascinating insight into the post Stalin USSR, one question : Why did the USA allow such a loony as Oswald to return home with his lovely bride,no doubt there must have some de briefing,but what a big mistake to let him loose.

  • rh@rharrison.com

    It was disappointing to see, in Tony Thomas’s recent piece “On the Trail of Oswald’s Ghost”, Lee Harvey Oswald described as a “lone nut” and “an insignificant nutter”. But the fact is that Oswald wasn’t mad, he was bad: a fanatical communist who was motivated by that ideology to murder JFK, the head of state of the most important anti-communist country in the world.

    Oswald’s Soviet sojourn inevitably prompts suspicions that the USSR had a hand in the Kennedy assassination, and I take no issue with the facts presented here by Dr Galak. However, the speculations made here are simply that. As it happens, there isn’t actually any evidence that the Soviets organised or aided Oswald in his murderous scheme. Instead, the evidence suggests strongly that Oswald acted alone, essentially as outlined by the Warren Report.

    I recommend that readers seek out the book “Shadow Pasts” by Professor William D. Rubinstein, which has a chapter on the Kennedy assassination. Rubinstein is the first academic historian to examine the competing theories about that killing, and brings his deep erudition to bear on the topic. His judgement on the matter is very persuasive.

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