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As headlines herald the onset of a new “Cold War” between the United States and Russia, distinguished journalist and Russia expert Marvin Kalb lightened the mood last Thursday at Brookings, delighting audience members with tales from his year as an American diplomatic attaché in Moscow. On November 9, the Brookings Book Club hosted Kalb who discussed his new memoir “The Year I was Peter the Great: 1956—Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia” (Brookings Institution Press) with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Here are highlights from the book that will leave you eager to get your hands on the full story.
First, Friedman offered these kind words about the book:
1. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev nicknamed Kalb “Peter the Great”
Ahead of the annual Fourth of July reception at Spaso House, the ambassadorial residence, U.S. Ambassador Chip Bohlen learned that Nikita Khrushchev and his entire Politburo planned to make an appearance. Kalb was tasked with entertaining Georgy Zhukov, the minister of defense and marshal of the Soviet Union, who, Kalb said, “really liked his vodka.” Kalb recalled that, “to avoid the start of World War Three, I had to find a way of giving him vodka and giving me water.” The embassy’s butler cleverly placed water on the side of the serving tray from which Kalb took his drink.
By the end of the night, Marshal Zhukov was so impressed with Kalb’s tolerance that he exclaimed to Khrushchev: “I have finally found a young American who can drink like a Russian!” Kalb explained to the audience that when Zhukov then introduced him to the Soviet leader, he gained from Khrushchev the sobriquet found in the title of the memoir. Hear how he got that nickname:
2. Soviet intelligence used Bolshoi ballerinas to target potential foreign assets
While finishing his graduate work at …