“The Perimeter system is very, very nice,” he says. “We remove unique responsibility from high politicians and the military.”
Valery Yarynich, a 72-year-old former Soviet colonel, 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. 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 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, and severed the communications network. 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. The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He believes the world needs to know about Dead Hand. Because, after all, it is still in place.