Just the names - Khrushchev, Powers and the U-2 - conjure up visions of the Cold War at its chilliest after the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane in 1960.
Yet when the sons of Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers met in the shadows of a sleek, black U-2 jet in the north Norway town of Bodo this weekend they were all smiles.Gary Powers Jr., 30, and Sergei Khrushchev, 60, were in Bodo for a two-day conference on the Cold War and the U-2s. The elder Powers was on his way to Bodo when he was shot down.
More than 50 U-2s were built and flew hundreds of spy missions at up to 74,000 feet to photograph military installations in the Soviet Union, Cuba and elsewhere.
"I can remember that my father was truly angry and provoked by the U-2 flights," Khrushchev told Powers when they met at Bodo's Aircraft Museum, where a U-2 like the one that was shot down is on display.
"But that made him even more jubilant when he was told that one of the top-secret U-2s was shot down." the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet quoted Khrushchev as saying.
On May 1, 1960, Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, for a high-altitude mission over the Soviet Union and was shot down near Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains. Powers was held by the Soviets for 21 months.
"He was treated well by his guards but felt isolated and lonely," Powers told the newspaper.
In an interview with the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten, Khrushchev said his father was afraid the U-2s would reveal that his supposed massive nuclear arsenal was a bluff.
"He bluffed. All over Europe he bluffed to make the West believe we had more rockets than we had," Khrushchev told the newspaper. "I asked him once if it was it was true that we produced missiles as fast as others produced sausages.'
His father replied, "It doesn't matter how many we produce, because we don't plan to start a war. What's important is that the Americans believe we have many."
Khrushchev said his father was convinced that the Americans sent a U-2 on May 1 to ruin his May Day celebration, a major holiday in the former Soviet Union. The Soviet leader was awakened at 5 a.m. with the news.
The then 25-year-old son asked Khrushchev if he really ordered the plane shot down.
"What a stupid question. Of course," Khrushchev quoted his father as saying.
The elder Khrushchev was watching a military May Day parade when he got the news that the U-2 was shot down.
"He was happy. `At last, we got them,' he said. He had waited years for it," the son told Aftenposten. But the incident killed off a dialogue beginning between the Soviet president and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and caused the arms race to accelerate, he said.
"There a good chance that the world would have been different if the U-2 flights hadn't taken place," Khrushchev told the newspaper.
The elder Powers died in a helicopter accident in 1977. Khrushchev was ousted in 1964 and died in 1971.