Valentin S. Zorin, a legendary Soviet and Russian journalist and TV presenter, historian specializing in American studies, political analyst, died aged 90, on April 27 in Moscow. He was known to be the one from whom most Soviet people learned about the United States. Zorin did not demonize the USA, but presented it real, with all its benefits and implications. Zorin had many American friends, among them was Henry Kissinger, the U.S. Secretary of State under Richard Nixon. One could hardly suspect Kissinger of having sympathy for the strategic rival of the United States, which did not hold him from having friendly relations with such bright representatives of that strategic rival as Soviet journalist Valentin Zorin was. It was friendship “against all odds,” considering the way Zorin presented the United States and the way Kissinger perceived the Soviet Union. Although Zorin spent his career years mostly in the United States, he perceived very painfully the collapse of the USSR, attack on the Supreme Council in October of 1993, the destructive market reforms of 1990s, which Zorin called “cannibalistic.” Experiencing financial difficulties in 1990s, the prominent Soviet journalist and Americanist nevertheless rejected a favorable offer by oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
Zorin said he valued the friendship with John and Robert Kennedy, one of the most prominent brothers in the United States. Short before his death, the prominent Americanist told EADaily’s correspondent about the Kennedy brothers and his friendship with them. EADaily’s editorial board planned to publish this interview for a significant date, but it has turned out to be our tribute to the memory of the prominent journalist and citizen of Russia.
Mr. Zorin, you are an acknowledged Americanist and international journalist. Few people know, however, that you were friends with the 35th president of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his brother Robert. How did you make friends with the persons who became symbols of the 20th century?
Our first meeting with John Kennedy was in 1961, during the U.S. president’s meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. I was in the group of journalists that accompanied the Soviet leader then. I got an opportunity to meet with Kennedy thanks to his spokesperson Pierre Salinger, who was also a good friend of the American president. By some quirk of fate, the friend of the U.S. president appeared to be an old friend of mine. I could not but snag the opportunity and persuade my friend to organize a meeting with his chief. He did it: during a break, Salinger invited Kennedy to the forecourt of U.S. Embassy building in Austria and I interviewed the president there.
I am not going to tell you what I talked about with the U.S. leader then, as I wrote about that interview in my book “The Unknown about Known.” Since then, I managed to meet with Kennedy informally too.
Here is an interesting fact: Kennedy appointed his friend Salinger as the White House press secretary, which was a gross violation of traditions, like the fact that the Minister of Justice was his brother Robert. Never before and never after has any of the U.S. presidents afforded anything of the kind. Meantime, Kennedy loved breaking traditions. I had good relations with Robert Kennedy too.
As a friend of John Kennedy, I can say that president was an amazing man, a man of great political mind, prompt reaction and incredible willpower. The Caribbean nuclear crisis has demonstrated that to the world, though many historians and politicians do not remember it, unfortunately.
Looking back on those days, one can see that not only the USSR and the U.S., but also the entire world was on the brink of a nuclear disaster. It may sound unpleasant to many, but the one behind that nuclear crisis was not John Kennedy. It was Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee Nikita Khrushchev who led the world on the verge of annihilation by deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba and holding the Soviet pistol to the head of U.S. I think it was, to put it mildly, a hasty step by him. The U.S. leadership responded toughly and the situation in the world was extremely explosive. All that might spark a World War III.
The role of the U.S. president and his brother Robert Kennedy in preventing that nuclear tragedy able to destroy everything alive on the Earth was tremendous. Two persons made a huge contribution to resolving that conflict through contacts of Kennedy and Khrushchev. The first was the president’s brother Robert Kennedy and the second was our diplomat Anatoly Fyodorovich Dobrynin, who had been the Soviet ambassador to the United States for two decades, one of the most prominent diplomats in the history of the USSR.
During the Caribbean crisis, Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy were talking night and day. They were waging shuttle diplomacy they had invented. After their talks, Dobrynin was visiting the Soviet Embassy in Washington and sending to Moscow cipher messages about the process of the talks with the American side. Robert was informing his brother in the White House of the talks with the Soviet ambassador. At that moment, it was a very important hot line between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States and it resolved the Caribbean crisis. As for Kennedy, he made the first steps to what the leaders of the USSR and U.S. later called reduction of tensions in the relations. Kennedy learned an important lesson from the Caribbean crisis: as long as there is threat of nuclear war, the world, everything alive can be destroyed in few seconds.
Those who are now pulling military bases with nuclear weapons close to the borders of Russia prefer not to remember the story about the most popular U.S. President John Kennedy who removed the U.S. military base from the territory of a NATO country on the border with our country.
What do you mean?
I am speaking about dismantling of the U.S. Incirlik air base in Turkey. U.S. rockets with nuclear warheads could reach Baku within eight minutes from Incirlik. The base was liquidated after the Soviet rockets were removed from Cuba under the arrangements to resolve the Caribbean crisis. Yet, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has not yet forgiven Khrushchev for liquidation of the Soviet “Nuclear Sword” from Cuba. And maybe he is right. Castro did not ask the USSR or personally Khrushchev to deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba and did not ask for dismantling anything either. Cuba was placed before an accomplished fact when our rockets were deployed there and then again when the weapons were withdrawn. Castro was dissatisfied that Moscow just used Cuba. After the relations of Moscow and Havana chilled, Khrushchev had to send Anastas Mikoyan to normalize the relations with Cuba.
It was an important episode in the history of U.S., USSR and the world, in general, as Washington dismantled its military base deployed maximum close to the border of the present-day Russia. That fact is still hushed up in the American press.
Why is it hushed up? Is it shame for the U.S. military to admit that the most popular U.S. president refuse to “expand NATO into the east” following the talks with the USSR on the Caribbean crisis?
Sure, but it is not the only reason. Washington that is arrogantly teaching democracy to our country must remember one very important thing. Assassination of President Kennedy and his brother, Secretary Robert Kennedy, which was later called as the Crime of Century, has not been exposed yet. The U.S. authorities do not even take any measures to expose that crime.
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan– the officially convicted assassin of Robert Kennedy – is still alive in a Los Angeles jail. Bishara could tell something about Robert Kennedy’s assassination that happened just outside the White House building. Then, in 1968, the presidential campaign was nearing completion in U.S. and it was evident that Robert Kennedy would win the election. After Robert was killed, everyone understood that his assassination was directly connected with the violent death of his brother John. As an Americanist, I share the views that the plot in Dallas was organized by a group of the Texas billionaires with Harold Hunt at head.
In the Soviet period, general readers were focusing on American studies. Now, mass information users prefer not to spare themselves on learning the political and economic life of the United States. For many of them it is enough to know that U.S. is Russia’s adversary. Please, remind our readers who was Harold Hunt and how he could be behind the death of the Kennedy brothers.
In 1968, Harold Hunt was known to be the richest man in the world. That Texas-based businessman was very active in politics. Thanks to him, Lyndon Johnson, a senator from Texas, succeeded Kennedy as president. Hunt lobbied Johnson for the president’s post yet in 1960. However, at the congress of the U.S. Democratic Party, Hunt’s plans failed, as the Congress supported John Kennedy’s nomination for the president’s post. Yet, the voting of the Democrats for Kennedy was Hunt’s deal, under which Kennedy was nominated as president, but Lyndon Johnson, Hunt’s ‘creature’, was to be elected as vice president.
As for the “Texas group,” one of the largest financial and industrial groups in America, its links to John Kennedy’s assassination and the strange idleness of the U.S. authorities when it comes to investigation in the murder of the 35-year-old president, I would like to recall something. George Bush-senior and George Bush -junior were petroleum producers from Texas, bright representatives of the local financial and industrial group. Harold Hunt is from the same environment. Furthermore, George Bush-senior created his wealth with the help of Hunt. Although Hunt passed away yet long ago, the group of the oil producers from Texas is still the largest in the U.S. policy and business. In this light, the U.S. authorities and the Bush Family will not take any steps that may damage the authority of the Texas oil manufacturers, even post factum. The possibilities that may pour light on the shots in Dallas are not used. As the years go by, not only witnesses but also evidences fade away.
I inquired into the murders of the Kennedy brothers. I managed to leave for the United States immediately after John Kennedy was assassinated. Three days after Robert Kennedy’s death, I was in Los Angeles where he was murdered. I inquired into the assassination of the president’s brother who was due to take that high post in the country.
How was that Texas billionaire connected to those “murders of the century”?
Speaking of the murder in Dallas, any reasonable man will understand the following factors. It was simply unthinkable to let to Lee Harvey Oswald – the man who was considered John Kennedy’s murderer - an outsider, who suddenly killed Oswald. In U.S., there is a strict system of witness protection. The U.S. president’s assassination suspect is a witness whom the government protects as carefully as it would protect the president. It is simply unbelievable that the security service could incidentally let to Oswald’s room anyone who could fatally shot him. After Lee Harvey Oswald’s death, sixty-two important witnesses had passed away within two years under strange circumstances. People who could tell much about John Kennedy’s murder die suddenly. By the way, the taxi driver who took Oswald from the Texas Book Depository to home died a week after John Kennedy’s assassination.
In Los Angeles where Robert Kennedy was killed, they bungled the matter. I can state this for sure, as I was present at the news conference in hospital where Robert passed away. At that news conference, I and many other journalists were showed an image from the police materials where one could see powder burns on the back of Robert’s neck. Note: the burns were on the back of the neck, meantime it was widely accepted that Sirhan Bishara shot Robert standing in front of him. The burns I was shown on the image in Los Angeles could be caused if the murderer shot Robert pointblank from behind. That image from the Police materials - an essential document in the murder case - had been demonstrated to the press within three days, and then it disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Therefore, I can suppose that Robert’s bodyguard who stood behind him shot him pointblank from behind. However, Sirhan Bishara, a Palestinian man who came out of nowhere, was eventually indicted for president’s murder. It becomes apparent why Bishara has made no signs during all the 48 years since Robert’s murder, though he is still alive and is serving a life sentence.
Who could hire a killer-bodyguard for Robert Kennedy?
Such a bodyguard could occur in Robert Kennedy’s Security Guard due to the deadly feud between him and Edgar Hoover, the long-standing director of FBI, who founded FBI and survived many presidents on that post. Before the death of the Kennedy brothers, Hoover was a very powerful, more precisely, the most powerful official in the United States. As Minister of Justice, Prosecutor General of the United States and then a presidential nominee, Robert Kennedy did his utmost to remove Hoover from his post. Therefore, the severe feud between Hoover and Robert Kennedy could result in hiring that mysterious bodyguard who shot Robert dead in Los Angeles in 1968.
Nevertheless, I cannot say if Hoover and Harold Hunt were friends or financial partners. However, I know that Edgar Hoover was indirectly involved in the Dallas tragedy. John Kennedy’s Security Guard was not good. Prior to Kennedy’s fatal trip to Dallas, FBI was receiving alarms through various reliable channels that the president’s life was in danger. As for Robert’s death. I have already said, one of his bodyguards apparently shot him dead. Robert’s death was necessary to the murderers of his brother John. Robert had never concealed his plans to find those behind the president’s assassination. In all his pre-election speeches, Robert said he would dig out his brother’s assassination plot and it would be the first thing he would do if elected. Robert told me about the Texas traces of John’s murder, as I was in very good relations with Robert and I was a friend of his brother. Making accusations against powerful Texas businessmen would affect his presidential campaign. That is why, he chose a foreign journalist – me – as a media mouthpiece. He informed me about the details of his brother’s murder and hoped that all those facts would be published in the Soviet press with my help.
Actually, I had been digging out the Texas traces of the president’s murder within several years after Robert Kennedy pointed me at them prior to his presidential campaign in 1968 that ended so tragically for him. In the same way, in 1984, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her bodyguard. One of Indira’s bodyguards, who was a Sikh, confessed that he shot her from behind.
How did the Kennedy brothers work with each other? Sometimes, politics affects the relationships of even most devoted people.
Robert was not just the brother of a prominent person and president of the United States. He was a very powerful and independent political figure, though in a single team with John. At the same time, they used to hold heated debates of many issues.
However, they had no disagreements concerning the U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union. Both them were aware of the danger of nuclear conflict. Robert like his brother John Kennedy was bewildered to face a threat of the World War III, a probable nuclear war that will destroy everything alive on the Earth. The ideas of disarmament policy were not strange to Robert either. The current head of the Kennedy clan, Edward – the youngest of the Kennedy brothers, shared those views too.
All the talks in our and U.S. media that the Kennedy brothers were brought to politics by their wealthy father were nothing but yellow press. Perhaps, it was easier for the brothers to hold their election campaigns having such father as billionaire Joseph Kennedy, but John and Robert were outstanding individuals, which was a crucial factor in their careers. To be substantive, I would like to tell an amusing episode from John Kennedy’s election campaign that I observed.
During the presidential debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, I was the resident correspondent of the USSR State Television and Radio in U.S. Walter Cronkite, the veteran television news anchorman, a board member of the influential Time magazine, invited me to his TV team. After the election campaign and after victory of John Kennedy, Cronkite invited me to his office and began lecturing me severely. Cronkite had the right to do it; he was old enough to be my father. He told me: “Valentin, I closely followed your reports to Moscow about the election campaign. You told the Soviet TV viewers that John Kennedy won, because his presidential platform was liberal, while the one of Nixon was conservative. This means that you have not understood how presidents are elected in the United States. If you really think that a U.S. voter reads the election platforms of the presidential candidates, you are mistaken.” In Cronkite’s words, everything was much easier. The campaign of 1960 was the first televised campaign. “The citizens of the United States watched two candidates, two persons: the handsome rhetorician John Kennedy and the always unshaven, faltering Richard Nixon,” Cronkite told me. “If you take into account that more than half of the American voters are women, it will be clear why Kennedy won the elections.”
I knew that Walter Cronkite was kidding. That wide old man was right saying that U.S. voters do not read the election programs of candidates. However, Cronkite knew that Kennedy won thanks to his foreign policy views that were new for his country, for the ideas he voiced then, at the height of the Cold War. Most of the voters that supported him (among them there were many women) did it not because of his handsome look, but because of his serious proposals on the foreign and domestic policy of the United States.
Which of Kennedy’s proposals gained the attention of voters?
John Kennedy challenged not only the U.S. military-industrial system that pursued profits from the “crusade against USSR.” Kennedy challenged the oligarchic group in Texas that claimed power in the United States then. That is way Hunt and other billionaires in Texas plotted his assassination and that is why many of my U.S. colleagues avoid speaking about that fact now. I know for sure that six months before the Dallas tragedy, Kennedy initiated a bill in the Senate that looked to increase taxes on oil recovery in America.
In U.S. where the Bush clan in Texas is still very influential, it is not favorable for anyone to remember that there was a president who tried to take in hand the oil oligarchs in Texas. During one of my trips to the United States, I reminded my younger American colleagues about that fact. They said it was impossible. When I recommended them to look into the Senate archives, they agreed with me saying that there was really such document in the Senate. Kennedy did not have time to bring that bill into force. They did not give him a chance to do it. Analogy is a dangerous thing in history, but I will say this: the leader of any country acts in the right way when he removes oligarchs from power and does not give them too much influence on power.
Moderating oligarchs Kennedy created barrier to the U.S. military, as he was against the “crusade against the USSR.” He did not conceal it and even built his presidential campaign on it. Amid the Cold War hysteria and fear of nuclear war, he was more preferable candidate than the then tough Nixon. After his defeat in 1960, Richard Nixon became much more moderate. John became an etalon for many U.S. pragmatic politicians. Not so long ago, the U.S. media published the list of the most prominent presidents of the United States based on the public opinion polls. John Kennedy was ranked the third after George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Such a high respect for him by Americans is understandable.
After so many years since the Dallas tragedy, no president has had such high confidence rating as John Kennedy had. Some presidents simply spent their terms in their offices and left, without leaving their mark in history.
John did not avoid answering for his not popular decisions and miscalculations before the people. For instance, at the beginning of the Caribbean crisis, he did not lay the responsibility on Khrushchev or his team. He said that only one person was guilty of that situation – U.S. President JFK. Yet, I think he could blame CIA for improper data, as George Bush did after invading Iraq, when CIA did not find any traces of nuclear weapons there. George Bush laid the responsibility for the situation on the intelligence, launching dismissals at CIA and other security services.
There was another case. Once CIA suggested Kennedy to storm ashore the Bay of Pigs. CIA assured that landing of Cuban exiles there would make Fidel Castro shot himself in his room, as the people of Cuba allegedly hated him and waited Americans as their liberators. The military suggested Kennedy to provide the landing force of migrants a marine infantry unit and a squadron of the Air Force. Kennedy said he would never do it, as the people of Cuba, not the U.S. sea soldiers must decide the fate of their country.
Interviewed by Igor Latunsky for EADaily