Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer Who Saved the World From Nuclear War, Dies at 77

Stanislav Petrov: ‘The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it.’ Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

A Soviet officer whose cool head and quick thinking saved the world from nuclear war has died aged 77.

Stanislav Petrov was on duty in a secret command centre outside Moscow on 26 September 1983 when a radar screen showed that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched by the US towards the Soviet Union.

Red Army protocol would have been to order a retaliatory strike, but Petrov – then a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel – ignored the warning, relying on a “gut instinct” that told him it was a false alert.

“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it,” he told the BBC’s Russian Service in 2013. “All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders.”

Instead of triggering a third world war, Petrov called in a malfunction in the early warning system. But even as he did so, he later admitted, he was not entirely sure he was doing the right thing.

“Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief,” he said.

It later emerged that the false alarm was the result of a satellite mistaking the reflection of the sun’s rays off the tops of clouds for a missile launch.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Marc Bennetts

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