In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, history reminds us of the Cold War and how the Soviet Union came close 60 years ago to a nuclear strike that was averted by the actions of a Soviet Navy officer who refused to follow orders.
The declaration of war on its neighbor has the world speculating that Russia could use nuclear weapons at its disposal against Ukraine or any western country that tries to intervene.
This threat is reminiscent of the Cold War era, 1947 to 1987, between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, where both sides flexed their military muscles with spectacular displays of nuclear warheads.
Only the decisive action of a levelheaded senior Russian submarine officer six decades ago averted a full-blown nuclear war and changed the fate of the entire world.
Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov defied orders to fire a nuclear torpedo at a U.S. aircraft carrier and likely prevented a third world war and nuclear destruction.
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It was an era when the two greatest world powers, the U.S. and Soviet Union, were at the brink of war over the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
The premier of the Soviet Union at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, while promising to defend Cuba with the USSR’s military, may have miscalculated how severe the U.S. reaction would be.
In July 1962, after learning about the Soviet Union’s missile shipments to Cuba and the construction of new military facilities there with the help of Soviet technicians, U.S. President John F. Kennedy declared a naval blockade of Cuba.
By Oct. 27, 1962, a day described as the “most dangerous” in human history, a Soviet submarine designated B-59 was churning through the Sargasso Sea when it was rocked by a series of explosions from U.S. warships.
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Unknown to the U.S. warships, B-59 was one of the submarines that was loaded with nuclear missiles on board. The captain of the submarine ordered a quick launch of its cargo toward the U.S.
Knowing the repercussions of such a launch, Arkhipov, who was the second in command, swallowed one of the launch keys and prevented what could have been the start of a nuclear war with devastating effects on the rest of the world.
Despite his “unsovietic” act, Arkhipov was actually, upon reaching the Soviet Union, promoted for his decision. He managed to save the crew on the submarine and indirectly stopped a nuclear war that even the Soviets did not want on their heads.
Photos: Vasili Arkhipov, the Soviet Navy officer credited with preventing a Soviet nuclear strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis (handout). / The Russian military explodes what it calls the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb during a test in this undated TV image shown by Russian Channel One TV, Moscow, Sept. 11, 2007. (AP Photo/Russian Channel One Television)