Russia’s apocalyptic nuclear Perimeter (aka ‘Dead Hand’)

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” TV anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on his weekly news show on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television on Sunday evening.

Kiselyov isn’t a household name in the U.S. but to describe him as Russia’s Glenn Beck would be a major understatement. Having been appointed by President Putin as head of the official Russian government-owned international news agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) which has 2,300 employees, Kiselyov is now one of the most prominent figures in Russian state media.

Kiselyov said that the creation of the new media entity was necessary to redress what he called an unfair international perception of Russia.

“The creation of a fair attitude toward Russia as an important country with good intentions – this is the mission of the new structure that I will be heading up,” he said in December.

The Associated Press reported in December:

When Ukrainians flooded the streets last week to protest their president’s shelving of a treaty with the European Union, Kiselyov lambasted Sweden and Poland, accusing them of encouraging massive protests in Kiev to take revenge for military defeats by czarist Russia centuries ago.

Kiselyov, who earned his degree in Scandinavian literature, rolled a clip of a Swedish children’s program called “Poop and Pee,” designed to teach children about their bodily functions. After the clip finished rolling, Kiselyov turned to the camera to suggest that this was the kind of European decadence awaiting Ukraine, if it signed a deal with the EU.

In Sweden there is “the radical growth of child abortions, early sex — the norm is nine years old, and at age 12 there is already child impotency,” he said after the clip rolled.

That reportage gained him few friends in Ukraine, where one man bounded over to hand “an Oscar for the nonsense and lies” of Dmitry Kiselyov to the state television correspondent standing on Kiev’s main square. He was brusquely pushed out of the shot before finishing his speech.

Kiselyov has also proven an avid attack dog on the issue of homosexuality, as international criticism over a Russian law banning gay “propaganda” reached a fever pitch this summer. The TV anchor said that homosexuals’ hearts should be buried or burned, and that gays should be banned from donating blood or organs, which were “unsuitable for the prolongation of anyone’s life.”

In Kiselyov’s comments last night, he highlighted the existence of the Soviet-built system of nuclear retaliation known as Perimeter which still exists and if ever activated would launch a devastating nuclear attack on the United States through commands controlled by artificial intelligence.

(Before anyone here starts writing some inane comment about why Russia has a right to destroy the U.S. if it has already been destroyed by the U.S., pause for second and think about what it means to have computer-controlled nuclear weapons. That opens up whole new nightmarish vistas in the domains of cyberwarfare, faulty algorithms, and the inadequate maintenance of aging systems. Personally, I have little confidence in human-controlled nuclear arsenals and even less in those that can be unleashed automatically.)

The system was reported on by Nicholas Thompson in 2009:

Valery Yarynich glances nervously over his shoulder. Clad in a brown leather jacket, the 72-year-old former Soviet colonel is hunkered in the back of the dimly lit Iron Gate restaurant in Washington, DC. It’s March 2009 — the Berlin Wall came down two decades ago — but the lean and fit Yarynich is as jumpy as an informant dodging the KGB. He begins to whisper, quietly but firmly.

“The Perimeter system is very, very nice,” he says. “We remove unique responsibility from high politicians and the military.” He looks around again.

Yarynich is talking about Russia’s doomsday machine. That’s right, an actual doomsday device — a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon, always presumed to exist only as a fantasy of apocalypse-obsessed science fiction writers and paranoid über-hawks. The thing that historian Lewis Mumford called “the central symbol of this scientifically organized nightmare of mass extermination.” Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won’t discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels — including former top officials at the State Department and White House — say they’ve never heard of it. When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. “I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that.” They weren’t.

The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He might have a point: One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase. But Yarynich takes the risk. He believes the world needs to know about Dead Hand. Because, after all, it is still in place. [Continue reading…]

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