‘You know, it really could come to that,’ deputy foreign dinister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
‘If things continue as they are, it is entirely possible by the logic of events to suddenly wake up and see yourself in something similar.’
He was referring to the 1962 standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The crisis was triggered by the stationing of Soviet nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island and prompted the US to impose a naval blockade to prevent Moscow shipping in more.
It was defused when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle and remove the nuclear weapons in return for a pledge by U.S. President John F. Kennedy not to reinvade the Communist island.
Similar warnings were made yesterday by the head of the British armed forces who said a Russian invasion could trigger the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.
At least 90,000 Russian soldiers, backed by hundreds of heavy artillery weapons and tanks, are already in place and reports suggest this figure could rise to 175,000 personnel by early next year.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who took up the role of Chief of the Defence Staff last week, said of the build-up of Russian troops: ‘It is deeply worrying. The significance of the worst scenarios in terms of a full invasion of Ukraine would be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War Two.’
UK defence sources believe President Putin’s likely objective is to invade and occupy eastern Ukraine in 2022 and then seek a diplomatic solution, including the creation of a pro-Russian state there.
Moscow’s stated fear in Ukraine, which seeks to join NATO, is that the alliance will deploy missiles there and target them against Russia. NATO says it is a defensive alliance and such concerns are unwarranted.
Ukraine says it fears an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered near its borders, while Moscow says its posture is purely defensive.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the crisis in a two-hour video call on Tuesday and Biden has said he plans to organise a meeting between Russia and NATO countries to discuss Moscow’s concerns and ways of ‘bringing down the temperature on the eastern front’.
On Thursday, Germany’s new foreign minister warned Russia that it would pay a ‘high political and economic price’ if it made any militaristic moves against Ukraine.
Annalena Baerbock, speaking in Paris while making her first foreign trip a day after taking office, emphasised the need to coordinate a common European position when dealing with hostile neighbours such as Russia.
General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, called media reports about Russia allegedly preparing an attack on Ukraine ‘a lie’ and said that Ukraine was to blame for escalating tensions in its war-torn eastern industrial heartland, known as Donbas, by deploying new weapons there.
Gen. Gerasimov warned Kyiv against using force in the area. ‘Any provocations by Ukrainian authorities to settle the Donbas problems with force will be suppressed,’ he said at a briefing with foreign military attaches.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter tug-of-war since 2014, when Moscow annexed the peninsula of Crimea and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has since killed more than 14,000 people.
Tensions have reignited this year amid reports of a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border.
US President Joe Biden said this week the US would take a more direct role in diplomacy to address Putin’s concerns over Ukraine and Europe at large, part of a broader effort to dissuade the Russian leader from ordering a destabilising new invasion of Ukraine.
US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has stationed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.
Moscow has denied plans to attack Ukraine and in turn alleged that Kyiv might try to reclaim the areas controlled by the rebels. Ukrainian officials have denied an intention to do so.
President Putin has urged the west to provide guarantees that would preclude Nato from expanding to Ukraine and discussed the tense situation around Ukraine with President Biden on Tuesday.
President Biden, as well as officials in Europe, warned President Putin that Russia could face painful economic consequences if it invaded Ukraine.
How the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon in 1962
The Cuban missile crisis brought the world as close as it has ever been to nuclear war in October 1962.
After America’s failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, the Cuban strongman allowed the Soviet Union to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba – putting the warheads in easy striking distance of most of the US.
If Russia chose, it could launch the missiles at the US before Washington had a chance to retaliate.
America had already deployed ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey – putting them within easy striking distance of Moscow.
President John F Kennedy informed Americans during a television broadcast on October 22, 1962, that the Soviets had placed missiles on Cuba and that in retalation, the US would erect a blockade around the island to force Castro and Khrushchev to remove to missiles.
He announced America would be willing to use military force if necessary to deter what was seen as a threat to national security – and the world waited with baited breathe.
On October 24, 1962, another key moment came when Soviet ships heading for Cuba neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade. An attempt to breach the blockade would most likely have resulted in a military stand-off, but Soviet ships backed down.
A flashpoint which could have triggered all-out war was when an American reconnaissance plane was shot down on October 27, 1962.
A U.S. invasion forces readied itself for an invasion of Cuba but were eventually stood down. The 35-year-old pilot of the downed plane, Major Rudolf Anderson, is considered the sole U.S. combat casualty of the Cuban missile crisis.
Throughout the tense stand-off, Khrushchev and Kennedy were in contact to try to avoid any military escalation between the two superpowers. On October 26, 1962, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba.
The following day, Khrushchev sent a letter proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.
Secret negotiations between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and JFK and between his brother Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin led to a deal. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said after the incident it would be the ‘last Saturday he would ever see’ as tensions continued to escalate.
The Soviets agreed to withdraw their missiles in return for America pledging not to invade Cuba. The US also secretly promised to remove obsolete missiles from Turkey. Both sides claimed victory as a way of putting a positive PR spin on the crisis.