Stephen Mihm: The Secret Bromance of Nixon and Brezhnev

tags: Richard Nixon, Bloomberg News, Stephen Mihm, White House tapes, Leonid Brezhnev



Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, is a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.

On Aug. 21, the Nixon Presidential Library released the final installment of the 37th president's secret tape recordings in the Oval Office. There’s much of interest in the approximately 3,000 hours of recordings, and the accompanying 140,000 pages of documents, but perhaps the most fascinating find is a conversation that took place between Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev on June 18, 1973.

The Soviet leader arrived in Washington that day for a lengthy visit to the U.S., part of a larger thaw in relations between the two nations. Nixon had made the pilgrimage to Moscow the previous year, spending a week with Brezhnev and signing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Treaty. The two men warmed to each other, though Nixon said he was rattled by Brezhnev’s volatile personality: “I momentarily thought of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when Brezhnev, who had just been laughing and slapping me on the back, started shouting angrily.”

But when Brezhnev showed up the following year, he was all smiles. The newly released tape recording reveals him to be practically falling over himself in his efforts to ingratiate himself with Nixon. Brezhnev began by informing Nixon that it had rained when he took off from Moscow. This, Brezhnev assured him, was a “good omen,” citing a Russian superstition. That it was raining when he landed, too, made it a “double, extra good omen" and "of enormous significance.”...




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