Moscow: A retired Soviet lieutenant colonel whose self-control prevented a nuclear war from being triggered by a long-classified accident in 1983 was named yesterday a recipient of a German anti-war prize.
Stanislav Petrov, 73, won the fourth Dresden-Preis (Dresden Prize), which comes complete with a cheque for 25,000 euro ($32,000), prize organizers said on their website, Friendsofdresden-deutschland.com.
The prize is to be bestowed at a ceremony in Dresden Feb 17, the anniversary of the Dresden bombing in 1945, the organizers said.
Ironically for a military officer, Petrov shot to fame for ignoring his direct responsibilities. The officer served at a command centre of the Soviet nuclear early-warning system outside Moscow, which reported the launch of five nuclear missiles from US territory Sep 26, 1983.
Cold War tensions were riding high at the time, boosted by the Soviet Union’s fears about the US Strategic Defense Initiative – “the Star Wars program” – and the international incident caused by the Soviet air defense shooting down a Korean passenger plane earlier in September that year.
Petrov’s duty was to report the incoming missiles to his superiors, who were likely to order a snap retaliatory strike. However, he chose to ignore the report, ruling it an equipment malfunction and reckoning five missiles insufficient for a proper war.
His guess was right: an investigation proved the warning to be a false report by a monitoring satellite confused by sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds.
Petrov was neither promoted nor disciplined and continued his service, while the story remained classified until 1998. He later said he was denied an award because the incident was investigated by the officers responsible for the malfunction.
After the story was made public, Petrov received several international prizes. He has stubbornly denied all attempts to label him a hero, saying in an interview to The Moscow News in 2004 that “he was just doing his job, at the right place at the right time”.
The annual Dresden-Preis was formed in 2010 and is awarded for anti-war effort.
Recipients include the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, pianist Daniel Barenboim, active in promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and US war photographer James Nachtwey.
The US had 13,100 strategic nuclear warheads as of 1983, and the Soviet Union 9,700.