A former Soviet colonel credited with averting all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States has been honored 35 years after his heroic act.
Stanislav Petrov was working as an officer at a secret command base in Moscow in 1983 when he dismissed an incoming missile warning as a false alarm.
The investigation which followed proved he was right and Petrov, who died aged 77 last year, has since been hailed as the “man who saved the world”.
Had he told his superiors, the Soviet leadership which was locked in an arms race with Washington may have ordered a retaliatory strike.
At a ceremony at the Museum of Mathematics in New York, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon paid tribute to Petrov.
He said: “It is hard to imagine anything more devastating for humanity than all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States. Yet this might have occurred by accident on September 26, 1983, were it not for the wise decisions of Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.”
“For this, he deserves humanity’s profound gratitude. Let us resolve to work together to realize a world free from fear of nuclear weapons.”
Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Beatrice Fihn, also praised Petrov, as the Bulletin reported.
She said: “Stanislav Petrov was faced with a choice that no person should have to make and at that moment he chose the human race – to save all of us. Thirty-five years from that day when Stanislav Petrov chose us over nuclear weapons, nine states still hold the world hostage with 15,000 nuclear weapons.”
“We cannot continue relying on luck and heroes to safeguard humanity.”
Petrov kept his courageous decision secret for eight years and it only came to light in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.
Yet the famously modest former soldier lived in a small town outside Moscow and died in relative obscurity on May 19, 2017.
Petrov was in a Moscow command center went off signaling that the US had launched nuke-carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The officer – who had only a few minutes to make a decision and was not sure about the incoming data – dismissed the warning as a false alarm.
The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel reported a system malfunction and an investigation that followed afterward proved he was right.
Petrov came home only several days later but did not tell his wife or family about what had happened.
Several months later Petrov received an award “for services to the Fatherland” but the incident at the control center was kept secret for many years.
In 1984, he left the military and settled in the town of Fryazino around 12 miles northeast of Moscow.
Petrov’s story only came to light after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and over the years he became the subject of numerous media reports in Russia and abroad.
A self-effacing man, Petrov never thought of himself as a hero, according to his son.
“My father could not have cared less. He was always surprised that people were making a hero out of him,” he said.
“He simply did his job well,” said Petrov’s son, adding that his father received hundreds of letters from Europeans thanking him for averting the outbreak of a nuclear war.
“The Man Who Saved the World,” a documentary film directed by Danish filmmaker Peter Anthony and narrated by US actor Kevin Costner, was released in 2014.
Footage of the elderly Petrov is combined with re-enactments of what happened at that secret control center in 1983.
“I categorically refused to be guilty of starting World War III,” Petrov said in the film.
“I felt like I was being led to an execution,” he said of those dramatic moments.
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