Last week, as thousands of Russian troops streamed into Ukraine, Putin issued a statement reminding the world that Russia was a nuclear-armed power.
“Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations,” he said. “This is a reality, not just words.”
Putin is certainly playing up the threat of his strategic arsenal. This month, Russia is conducting a massive drill simulating the defense of its strategic nuclear sites that will involve more than 4,000 soldiers. And as columnist and historian Anne Applebaum recently noted, commentators in Russia are now claiming that Putin is “weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes” against targets in eastern Europe, at least creating the impression that the Russian president is keeping his options open.
“Both sides now are putting weapons in to place that can reach each other in seven, eight minutes,” Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, told National Geographic. This reduced “the amount of time for a decision about whether or not to begin a nuclear war, about whether or not to incinerate the entire northern hemisphere from minutes to seconds.”
To deter the possibility of a U.S. nuclear first-strike, the Soviets created a system called Perimeter, also known as “Dead Hand.”
The Dead Hand was a computer system that could autonomously launch all of the USSR’s nuclear weapons once it was activated, across the entirety of the Soviet Union.
After Dead Hand was activated by Soviet military officials, “the first thing it does is check the communication lines to work out if there’s anyone alive and in charge of the Soviet military,” Alok Jha, author of The Doomsday Handbook, told National Geographic. “If they’re not alive, it takes over.”
If Dead Hand did not detect signs of a preserved military hierarchy, the system would perform a check for signals of a nuclear attack, such as a change in air pressure, extreme light, and radioactivity.
If the system concluded that a nuclear strike had taken place, Dead Hand would proceed to launch all of the remaining nuclear weapons from all of the silos throughout the Soviet Union at targets across the Northern Hemisphere.
“We’ve since asked the Russians if it’s still on,” Nichols writes at The National Interest, “and they’ve assured us, with complete confidence, that we should mind our own business.”
Full article: Russia May Still Have An Automated Nuclear Launch System Aimed Across The Northern Hemisphere (Business Insider)