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‘The country that attacks first will die 27 minutes later’ – Stanislav Petrov

Oksana Zenner
Feb 19, 2013 15:58 Moscow Time

станислав петров дрезденская премия

Stanislav Petrov
Photo: RIA Novosti

The International Peace Prize ceremony was held in Dresden. Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov became the prize-winner this year. On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov prevented the beginning of a potential nuclear war. During his shift on the night of September 26, the airspace control system received a report that the US was planning an attack against the Soviet Union. In an interview with Voice of Russia Petrov remembers that there was shock, bewilderment, and confusion that could easily grow into panic when the ‘red button’ could be pushed.

Lieutenant Colonel Petrov immediately reported the message to senior commanders, but he thought it was perhaps an error and decided to perform a diagnostic systems check. After his decision to further investigate, it turned out that the system had failed and the alarm was false. Stanislav Petrov has shared the memories of this event with our correspondent Oksana Tsenner.

– What were your feelings when you learned that the Dresden Peace Prize was awarded to you?

– Frankly speaking, I was a bit stunned, because in two years I was awarded two prizes in Germany; I’ve broken some records already.

– And do you discuss this event with your friends or relatives, do you recall it?

– Of course not. It is an event that happened long ago, as I say, I’ve completely forgotten about it; they have just reminded me, and I was not even thinking about it.

– How long was the computer system that failed in operation?

– The testing of the system began in 1976.

– What would have happened if you acted differently on the night of September 26?

– Well, with all these missiles being thrown in all directions, the country that attacks first will die 27 minutes later. Why? Because as soon as the attacking country finds it out, it will fire its missiles. And it will only be a matter of time until the attacking country gets struck shortly after.

– If you decided that the alarm was real, how would the events have developed?

– I can’t say what would have happened next. I only know what happened in reality. Excuse me, but this “if” is really out of place here.

– During the presentation of the prize you busted the myth about the red button, which with just one push was allegedly able to strike a retaliatory blow at the enemy…

– There was such a button, because the manufacturer designed the control panel according to the previous draft project. But later computers were supplied, the latest computers: while the works were carried out, they didn’t have any software. And at the same time scientists asked: can we entrust a man with this?

– In your opinion, would this be possible today?

– That’s no longer possible, as measures were taken to calculate when this kind of situation would arise, and space detection equipment immediately takes over.

– Does it mean that modern systems of early warning are almost perfect?

– Let’s say, it’s a myth that there could be a perfect system, ideal systems do not exist.

– Stanislav Yevgrafovich, can you describe that night of September 26?

– Lots of emotions. When this happened during the trainings, it was not unexpected, so even despite of the roaring siren, everything was okay. It was a quiet, peaceful night: there was a working atmosphere, negotiations were audible and suddenly a siren sounded – that was not for nervous people. There was such a shock, bewilderment, and confusion that it could easily grow into panic.

– So, was there a panic?

– No, there was no panic, I was busy preventing it. I shouted at them with a few choice words of my own.

Interview with former Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov, Dresden Peace Prize laureate

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