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Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who Prevented a Nuclear War

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Stanislav Petrov

Stanislav Petrov

Who Was Stanislav Petrov?

It was September 26, 1983. Three weeks earlier the Soviet military had shot down a Korean commercial airliner. The duty officer at the Soviet command center was Stanislav Petrov. The Soviet Oko nuclear early-warning system showed that a missile had been launched at the Soviet Union from the United States. It then showed that five additional missiles had been launched.

Petrov looked at the report and determined it was a false alarm. It is believed his actions prevented a retaliatory nuclear attack from the United States. NATO would have also become involved. This mistake could have resulted in a large-scale nuclear war. An investigation following the incident determined the Soviet nuclear early-warning system had malfunctioned.

Early Years

On September 7, 1939, Stanislav Petrov was born near Vladivostok in Russia. His father's name was Yevgraf, and he was a fighter aircraft pilot during World War II. His mother worked as a nurse. In 1972, Petrov graduated from the Kiev Higher Engineering Radio-Technical College of the Soviet Air Forces. Shortly after this, he was given an assignment to the Soviet Air Defense Forces. His area handled the Soviet's new early warning system. It was a warning system designed to identify attacks of ballistic missiles from the United States and NATO nations.

Young Stanislav Petrov

Young Stanislav Petrov

Major Flaws

The Soviet Union's standard for nuclear retaliation required confirmation from several sources before a retaliatory attack would be authorized. This is what was told to the United Nations from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation assigned to the UN. The false report of an attack by the United States illustrated there were major flaws with the Soviet early warning system.

Soviet Military Leadership

After the incident, Petrov was not rewarded for his action, but he was also not punished. The reality of the situation is that if Petrov had reported incoming missiles from the United States, there is a good chance the Soviet military would have launched a retaliatory strike. Petrov determined the Soviet system was providing false information. Upon careful review of what happened, it was determined the false alarm was the result of a rare alignment of sunlight against high-altitude clouds. These clouds were located over North Dakota. Once the clouds were aligned with the sunlight, the orbits of the satellites caused an error to occur.

Decision Influences

Petrov stated certain things influenced his decision. He had been taught that a nuclear attack by the United States would be an all-out attack. Five missiles seemed to him to make no sense. Petrov also realized the Soviet launch detection system was new. He did not think it was completely trustworthy. The message of the launch cleared 30 layers of verification too quickly for him to take seriously. At this time, the Soviet ground radar also failed to detect anything and corroborate the alleged launch.

Petrov admitted in an interview that he was never really certain the alarm was a mistake. He credited his civilian training with helping him make the correct decision. Petrov also said his colleagues were all professional military people. They only had military training. Petrov said they would have simply followed instructions and reported the mistaken missile launch detection.

No Recognition

Petrov was initially praised for his decision by the Soviet leadership. The Commander of the Soviet Air Defense was the first superior to listen to Petrov give a report. He concluded that Petrov made the correct decision. Petrov was at first promised a reward, but he was then reprimanded because he allegedly incorrectly filed paperwork.

They told him he did not describe the incident properly in the war diary. The incident was the reason other problems were discovered within the missile detection system. This embarrassed the scientists and military officials responsible for it. Petrov believes if he had been rewarded, the others would have been punished. He was reassigned and then took early retirement. Petrov ultimately had a nervous breakdown.

Stanislav Petrov after retirement

Stanislav Petrov after retirement

New Career

After leaving the military in 1984, Petrov got a job working at the research institute responsible for developing the Soviet Union's early-warning missile systems. Later Petrov retired from working at the institute. He wanted to care for his wife who had been diagnosed with cancer. In 1998, Petrov was interviewed by the BBC. He told them he was made a scapegoat for the incident.

Movie poster for Man Who Saved the World

Movie poster for Man Who Saved the World


A movie based on the actions of Stanislav Petrov was released on September 18, 2015. It was called The Man Who Saved The World.

Stanislav Petrov with Award

Stanislav Petrov with Award


Based on his actions of preventing a possible nuclear war, Petrov was given the Dresden Peace Prize. He was awarded it on February 17, 2013. He was also given the German Media Award in 2011. On September 26, 2018, Petrov was posthumously awarded a Future of Life Award in New York City.


Stanislav Petrov passed away on May 19, 2017. He died of hypostatic pneumonia. His death was not widely reported until September of that year. It was a story that was not well-known until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Petrov never thought of himself as a hero. He believed it was his job. Petrov did tell people the world was lucky he was on shift that night.


Stanislav Petrov | Wikipedia

Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who May Have Saved the World | BBC News

Stanislav Petrov, 1939 - 2017 | Legacy

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer Who Helped Avert Nuclear War, Is Dead at 77 | New York Times

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on September 30, 2021:

Peggy, thanks. I agree...there would be NO winners.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 30, 2021:

Thank heavens he guessed correctly that the early warning system was flawed. I am glad that he got some recognition for his efforts in preventing a nuclear war. There would be no winners if that ever happens!

Readmikenow (author) on September 30, 2021:

Liz, thanks. I agree with you.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 30, 2021:

This is a fascinating article about an event that I was completely unaware of. It would have taken a lot of courage to do what he did.