Cold war Soviet commander whose cool response to reports of a US missile attack was pivotal in averting nuclear war
Stanislav Petrov, who has died aged 77, was a largely unsung hero of the cold war, whose calm common sense saved the world from nuclear war. In 1983, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet air defence forces and duty officer at Serpukhov-15, a secret command centre outside Moscow that monitored Soviet early warning satellites orbiting over the US. Early in the morning of 26 September, alarms went off and computers sent signals that a US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile had been launched from an American base. A few seconds later they seemed to detect that four more missiles had been launched.
“We were in a state of shock,” Petrov recalled. “We needed to understand, ‘What’s next?’” It was his job to tell his superiors, who would report to the general staff of the Soviet military. They would then consult the Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, about launching a counterattack. Petrov’s computer systems said the reliability of the satellites’ information was at the “highest” level. Only 25 minutes would pass between the missiles’ launch and their detonation.