A former Russian military officer, who is credited with averting a possible nuclear war between the United States and the then Soviet Union in 1983, died at the age of 77 at his home in Moscow, the BBC reported on Tuesday. Though Stanislav Petrov died on May 19 this year, his death was made public only now.
Petrov was on duty at a Russian nuclear early warning centre near Moscow in 1983, when computers wrongly detected incoming US missiles. Petrov told the BBC’s Russian service in 2013 that he decided that it was a false alarm and did not report the matter to his superiors.
His actions are believed to have saved the world from a nuclear war because the Soviet Union’s military protocol during the Cold War said that a nuclear attack would be countered by a similar response.
“I had all the data to suggest that there was an ongoing missile attack,” Petrov had told the BBC in 2013. Instead of informing the military command, he reported the matter to a duty officer at Soviet Army headquarters. “All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I could not move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan...Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened,” Petrov added. “If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
A Russian investigation later revealed that the Soviet Union’s satellites had mistakenly identified sunlight reflecting on clouds as the engines of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Petrov’s death first came to light when German filmmaker Karl Schumacher called him up for his birthday on September 7. However, Petrov’s son informed Schumacher that the former military officer had passed away in May.