On May 22, 1972, Air Force One landed in Moscow for the first time. The landing was broadcast live on Soviet television. Huddled around their TV screens, Soviets tried to guess who would exit the plane first – Nixon or Kissinger? As it turned out, it was Mrs. Nixon who first appeared at the door, her husband having very naturally let her go first.
This was the last thing Soviet television viewers expected. The wives of Soviet leaders did occasionally travel with their husbands, but both Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s wives were pretty much kept out of view. Perhaps this was because they weren’t much to look at, or perhaps their husbands simply saw no reason for them to make public appearances.
Such was the beginning of this historic visit, the first by a sitting American president to the Soviet Union.* It was also the first time Soviet television viewers saw an American president in a live broadcast. In past decades, this would have been unthinkable.
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