Stanislav Petrov, Soviet soldier who saved the world from nuclear Armageddon, dies at 77
On September 26, 1983, Petrov convinced his superiors that warnings of incoming US nuclear missiles were a false alarm
A Soviet soldier credited with saving the world from nuclear holocaust has died at age 77.
Stanislav Petrov was the duty officer monitoring an early warning system from a bunker outside Moscow on September 26, 1983, when the radar screen suddenly appeared to depict a missile inbound from the United States.
“All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic,” Petrov told the Russian news agency RT in 2010. “I knew my decision would have a lot of consequences.”
The alert siren wailed. A message on the bunker’s main screen reported that four more missiles had been launched, he said. Petrov had 15 minutes to determine whether the threat was real and report to his commanders.
“My cozy armchair felt like a red-hot frying pan and my legs went limp,” he told RT. “I felt like I couldn’t even stand up. That’s how nervous I was.”
The incident occurred at a time of high tension between the countries. Less than a month earlier, the Russian military had shot down a Korean Air Lines flight that had deviated from its flight plan and flown over Russian airspace. The Berlin Wall would not come down for six more years.
Petrov, thinking that any US attack should have involved even more missiles to limit the chance of Soviet retaliation, told his Kremlin bosses the alert must have been caused by a malfunction. He persuaded Moscow not to shoot back.
It was later determined that Russian satellites must have mistaken sunlight reflecting off clouds for nuclear missiles.
Petrov’s reward? He was chastised for failing to provide proper paperwork, he said.
“My superiors were getting the blame and they did not want to recognise that anyone did any good, but instead chose to spread the blame,“ Petrov said.
The incident remained classified for 15 years, before a Kremlin colonel publicly discussed the incident. A German magazine picked up the story, and Petrov became a minor media star.
In 2013, Petrov was awarded the Dresden Peace Prize. In 2014, Kevin Costner starred in a drama-documentary The Man Who Saved the World, detailing Petrov’s story.
A German activist who helped globalise the news of Petrov’s deed called him this month to wish him a happy birthday – and was in informed by Petrov’s family that the nuclear hero had died in May amid little fanfare at his home in a small town near Moscow. It was a fitting end to a man who always had spoken modestly about his role in history.
“At first when people started telling me that these TV reports had started calling me a hero, I was surprised,“ he told RT in 2010. ”I never thought of myself as one. After all, I was literally just doing my job.”