The threats exchanged by Russia and US-led NATO have taken a dangerous turn as Moscow announces a nuclear alert. It is the second time the world has worried about nuclear war.
As the armed conflict enters its sixth day on March 1 and Russia's military assault intensifies in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin's rhetoric has become shrill.
Putin has put his country on nuclear alert, sparking outrage and condemnation from the US and its allies.
Many argue that Putin's nuclear sabre-rattling has brought the world to the 1962 moment dubbed the "Cuban Missile Crisis."
It played out between the former Soviet Union and the US, starting on October 16 and ending on October 28. Never before had the world come to the point of a nuclear war that threatened the entire human race on the planet. The 13 nerve-wracking days were one of the greatest tests of leadership on both sides.
Now, 60 years on from the Cuban missile crisis, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has fast turned into a major geopolitical crisis, with Putin activating his nuclear arsenal and causing anxiety the world over.
Only time will tell if Putin and US-led NATO will manage the crisis and prevent the war rhetoric from taking dangerous proportions. But there is a historical lesson to be learnt by studying the 13-day standoff between the Soviet Union and the US, which eventually led to a clearing of the war clouds, thanks to rigorous diplomacy and letters exchanged by the leaders of the two countries.
The confrontation began when the Soviet Union placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
A year earlier, Cuban leftist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro had survived a US-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs. He asked the Soviet Union to provide military assistance. Soviet Union head Nikita Khrushchev saw a strategic opportunity in Castro's offer and he quickly deployed medium-range nuclear missiles that could easily reach the US capital Washington DC.
In his promise to defend Cuba, Khrushchev is believed to have miscalculated how severe the US reaction could be.
In July 1962, after learning about the Soviet Union's missile shipments to Cuba and the construction of new military facilities there with the help of Soviet technicians, US President John F Kennedy declared a naval blockade of Cuba.
On October 22, during a TV address, Kennedy informed the American public about the presence of the Soviet missiles and announced the naval blockade around Cuba.
On the same day, the US president also sent a letter to Khrushchev, first Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between 1953-1964, in which he declared that his country would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba. The US President also demanded that the Soviet Union dismantle the missile bases and take back the missiles.
The letter initiated a serious exchange between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Washington used the time to keep all its forces around the world on alert. It readied four of its tactical air squadrons for airstrikes on Cuba, marking the enemy country's missile sites, airfields, ports and arms factories as their potential targets.
It also mobilised tens of thousands of troops and deployed them in Florida for a potential invasion of Cuba. The US navy dispatched 180 vessels to the Caribbean for a planned amphibious exercise involving 40,000 marines in addition to B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons (B-52 Stratofortress is an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber.)
During the negotiations, the Soviet leader first refused to acknowledge the presence of missiles in Cuba and declared the US naval blockade as an “act of war.”
Eventually, good sense prevailed. Kennedy and Khrushchev reached a deal. The Soviet Union asked the US to remove its Jupiter missiles from Türkiye as Soviet territories were within range. In exchange, Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.
Washington also made a pledge not to invade Cuba.
While a major nuclear war was prevented through diplomacy, the Soviets tried to portray the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a victory. Yet, it led to the ousting of Khrushchev. On the other hand, despite overseeing a failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s approval ratings soared owing to his firm stance against the Soviets. The event is deeply etched in American public memory.
The crisis reminded the world about the dangers of a potential nuclear crisis and paved the way for the establishment of a Moscow-Washington hotline in addition to the signing of a treaty between the US, the Soviets and Great Britain to forbid nuclear testing in August 1963.
However, the treaty fell apart with Kennedy’s simultaneous authorisation of a massive arms buildup, which led to the expansion of the US nuclear arsenal. The move gave the US military superiority over the Soviets during the Cold War.