The man who averted nuclear war in 1983 dies peacefully in Moscow

A retired Soviet officer who prevented a possible nuclear war between the US/NATO and the Soviet Union in the 1980s quietly passed away on the 19 May in his home in Fryazino, near Moscow. He was 77. His death is only now being more widely reported.

In 26 September 1983, lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov was monitoring the Soviet Union's early warning satellites from a command bunker near Moscow when one and then four more blips appeared on his screen indicating incoming US intercontinental ballistic missiles. This was during one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. Three weeks earlier a Korean passenger aircraft, with 269 people on board, had been shot down over Soviet airspace. The US was about to deploy the Pershing II missile to Europe and Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ and launched his ‘star wars’ programme. The critically ill Soviet leader Yuri Andropov was obsessed by fears of a US nuclear first strike.

Petrov had about 10-15 minutes to decide whether the blips were incoming US missiles and report to his commanders. With the future of the world resting in his hands, Petrov took a "gut decision" and did nothing.

“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike,” he later told the BBC. “But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan”.

As the tension in the command centre rose he made the decision to report the alert as a system malfunction. This later turned out to be the correct decision: it was a false alarm from a faulty satellite (which had interpreted sunlight reflected from clouds as a US missile launch).

Instead of being given a hero's medal, however, he was reprimanded for not filling out the log book that day and retired a year later. He was then employed as a senior engineer at the research institute that had created the early-warning system, but had to retire to care for his wife, Raisa, who had cancer. She died in 1997. In addition to his son, Dmitri, Colonel Petrov is survived by a daughter, Yelena.

For over 10 years, the incident was kept secret until 1998, when Petrov’s superintendent, Colonel General Yury Votintsev, spoke out and a report appeared in the German tabloid Bild. Global recognition followed, including an award presented at the UN headquarters in New York in 2006 from the Association of World Citizens, which reads: “To the man who averted nuclear war”. A film based on his story, The man who saved the world, premiered in 2014, featuring actor Kevin Costner.

Read More:

'I was just doing my job': Soviet officer who averted nuclear war dies at age 77, RT, 17 September 2017

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer who helped avert nuclear war, is dead at 77, New York Times, 18 September 2017