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"Russia's Nuclear Warriors"

PBS Airdate: November 6, 2001
Go to the companion Web site

NARRATOR: In the shocking aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, even as we grapple with the war on terrorism, the nuclear nightmare is stirring once again. Some experts say the risk of an accidental launch of a nuclear missile may be even higher today than in the Cold War.

For more than 50 years, the security of the world depended on a hair-trigger balance of terror between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Now both Russia and the U.S. appear to be united in the war against terrorism, but still there are dangers and disagreements.

President Bush remains committed to shielding the United States under a national missile defense, which President Vladimir Putin has always insisted could set off a new spiral of the arms race.

Russia's 6000 warheads are aging and unreliable. Her failing early warning systems could plunge the world into doomsday by accident. Panicking commanders of her cash-starved and demoralized armies could launch a desperate first strike.

Tonight, for the first time on television, NOVA penetrates Russia's largest missile base and the inner sanctum of its command and control center.

NARRATOR, a leading Russian journalist, raised in America, and a Kremlin insider for decades, presents an intimate portrait of Russia's rocket men, and raises provocative and unsettling questions. How do Russians view the uncertain new era of nuclear defense? Who are the men who hold the keys that could unleash her missiles? And could it be, as some maintain, that the world is at greater risk of nuclear obliteration now than at any time during the Cold War?

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to education and quality television.

This program is funded in part by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. Some people already know Northwestern Mutual can help plan for your children's education. Are you there yet? Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.

Science: it's given us the framework to help make wireless communications clear. Sprint PCS is proud to support NOVA.

And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

MISSILEER'S SONG: "Our fathers gave us Russia
to be preserved for their grandchildren.
And we call the rocket's fierce flame
the shield of our motherland."

VLADIMIR POZNER (Journalist and Narrator): Ten years after the end of the Cold War, and 10 years after the downfall of the Soviet Union, Moscow's military museum preserves what one might call the relics of the country's former might. The country's military is very low in morale, and even lower in money. But the Strategic Nuclear Forces are anything but museum pieces. And thousands of missiles are still ready and waiting.

NARRATOR: Russia's nuclear missiles are deployed at some 20 sites, scattered across the country's vast spaces. Until today, the missile bases have been highly secret, sealed off from outsiders. But NOVA has gained access to Russia's largest missile base, the heart of the nation's nuclear force.

This is the township of Svetly. In Russian it means "bright." Situated some 500 miles southeast of Moscow, Svetly was built 25 years ago and ever since then has been the country's number one strategic nuclear missile base.

Over that past quarter of a century there have been stupendous changes in Russia, but not here. As always, twice a week a replacement squad of missileers, in Russian called "rocketchiki," heads out to 20 remote launch control centers. From underground bunkers, they will command 200 missiles buried in silos.

This is the hidden world of the Rocketchiki, the underground tunnels leading to the missile launch centers. For decades, Russia's missileers have watched over the nation's nuclear arsenal, ceaselessly checking the readiness of the missiles under their control. And every time they go on duty, they await the ultimate order, to turn the keys and launch nuclear devastation.

This is the nuclear punch of Russia's biggest missile base, the TOPOL M. A squadron of 30 TOPOL Ms is based around Svetly. Designed to be fired from either a mobile launcher or a silo, the TOPOL has a range of over 6,000 miles and the destructive power of 35 Hiroshima bombs. Incidentally, topol means "poplar tree" in Russian. Heaven forbid having to rest in its shade.

Twenty-two-year old Lieutenant Evgeny Pavlov is an extremely bright and likeable young man who could have chosen a much more financially rewarding career than that of missileer. To join the Rocketchiki, he left behind a passion for action sports and a girlfriend.

EVGENY PAVLOV (Lieutenant, Russian Missile Forces): My girlfriend. My mother wanted that I will become a doctor. But I'll say "Never!" And my dreams at school was to become a Russian officer. And that's why now I'm a Russian officer.

NARRATOR: Once upon a time Russians enlisted in the armed forces because of the advantages offered over civilian life: higher pay, more available homes, good schools and good hospital facilities. And of course the status, the respect. That is no longer the case for all of the army, with one exception, the Strategic Missile Forces.

NARRATOR: In a missile launch simulator on the base, Colonel Yuri Petrovsky is training Lieutenant Pavlov and other young Rocketchiki. Colonel Petrovsky arrived here when Lieutenant Pavlov was born, 22 years ago. Then, it seemed that nuclear war was just around the corner and the enemy was at the gates.

YURI PETROVSKY (Colonel, Russian Missile Forces): At that time the ideology that was fed to us, you could say it shaped my view of the world: that the enemy is across the sea. Now I understand there is no enemy as such, but in my old brain cells, maybe some of that remains.

NARRATOR: Colonel Petrovsky and his wife Natalya, a teacher at one of the local schools, have recently moved into a bigger apartment on the base. Their daughter and her husband often come to visit them from the nearby city of Saratov, where they're studying. Both the Colonel and his wife are staunch supporters of life on the base.

YURI PETROVSKY: Life here in the town is unique, odd. It's also cheerful, interesting and unusual. I would say that things are more orderly here than in a big city. It's better for children. In big cities they can fall in with bad company. There are drugs. Here we don't have things like that. And what do we live for? We live for our children, for the family.

NARRATOR: Just outside Svetly base lies the village of Tatischevo. It has the same population as Svetly, but that's all they have in common. There are few jobs here and little money. Tatischevo is what the reality of post-communist Russia looks like, a country where economic woes and social disintegration have slashed the average male life expectancy to just 59 years.

Within the gates of Svetly base, the world is very different.

NARRATOR: This is more than just a military base. It's a town—a town of 20,000, complete with three public schools, sports facilities, a cultural center, a hospital. It's a closed town. It's not open to anyone. It's off limits to those who don't live here. And it is privileged.

The registration of new babies on the base is a special occasion. The champagne, music and dancing are just some of the signs that life here is very different. The schools would make Moscow envious. The kids seem confident, happy and secure.

But while life on the base is certainly better than in most of Russia, by western standards it would have to be called a hard and often bleak existence.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ (Defense Correspondent): Let me say that a Colonel here who is responsible for warheads equal to all nuclear potential of Great Britain, he receives less than 60 dollars a month. But believe me that two years ago the situation was even worse. They did not receive even this small salary.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV (Carnegie Institute of Peace Studies): Even in Russia it's not big money. And a few years ago, Russian officers were permitted to have a few days some leave in order to raise money, as gypsy cab drivers for instance.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ: I don't know why, but they have their own ideology and I asked this question to myself a lot of times. Why people are serving in such difficult conditions? But they are serving and they are thinking about defense of their Motherland. And it looks rather interesting in Russia where from time to time you think that no one believes to anything.

NARRATOR: The continuing faith of the people stationed here at Russia's biggest missile base has to do, in part, with the traditional privileges which almost always underlie traditional loyalties. But for Russia's elite Missileers, Svetly offers something more.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ: The biggest part of funding is located there. You can see the best barrack rooms, the best recreation centers. And people there are very enthusiastic because they are working with the newest missile system in Russia, TOPOL M. And this experience will play a crucial role in their future career.

NARRATOR: General Yuri Kavelin is the base commander. He was a construction worker, then joined the army and progressed through the ranks of the Strategic Missile Forces. He now commands 6,000 Rocketchiki and 2,500 military support forces. He knows exactly how things stand with the troubled Russian military. But he has no doubt about the morale of the Rocketchiki.

YURI KAVELIN (General, Base Commander): The missile forces are a special world, a special world. It's a world which, from the creation of the Missile Forces, was based on the best traditions of the Russian Army and the best officers. At the beginning we had tank, navy and air force officers, the best officers of the Russian army. And we continue this tradition until today.

EVGENY PAVLOV: My father always used to say, "Someone always has to start the process of changing things." When we arrived at military college, our commanding officers started to train us as the people who have to show the world a new army. I think our generation is going to change the army so that it will be respected again as it was in the past.

NARRATOR: Russia's missiles are test fired several times a year to check their readiness.

YURI KAVELIN: In spite of today's problems, we have managed to preserve our stability, flexibility and war-readiness. However, there is a problem of weapons aging fast. The aging of our missiles demands constant attention.

NARRATOR: Russia's maintenance crews are fighting to keep their missiles in service. Russia's weapons are often simpler and less prone to break down than western armaments like the Kalashnikov submachine gun, which functions in any conditions. But a nuclear missile is not a Kalashnikov, and the effects of aging can be disturbing.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER (Defense Correspondent, Moscow Times): Right now we have about 6000 strategic nuclear warheads ready to go. But it's obvious that in the coming years, the number is going to be decreased because a lot of the missiles that are today in operation are old ones, going up to about more than 20 years old, sitting in silos for more than 20 years. And soon they will have to be scrapped.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ: It's more or less clear that something is going on within these missiles which served 20 or even more years. Fortunately until now we have no any incidents and accidents with these missiles. But God knows what can happen in nearest future.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: I think that given the terrible situation with Russian economy and terrible conditions with Russian military, it's a miracle that nothing happened during the last 10 years after the Soviet collapse. However, unfortunately, it shouldn't be considered as a precedent that nothing happen in the future.

NARRATOR: The problems of Russia's aging missiles come to a focus here at the Command Center of the Strategic Missile Forces, just outside Moscow.

NARRATOR: I met the Commander in Chief, four-star General Vladimir Yakovlev.

VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV (General, Former Head of Missile Force): From the depths of this room, you can see the whole planet.

NARRATOR: How is that?

VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV: This is how. The power of our technology allows us to see any point on the planet if it becomes necessary.

NARRATOR: Despite General Yakovlev's confidence, all the evidence suggests that Russia's ability to monitor the planet from space is steadily deteriorating. On at least two occasions, false alarms brought the Russians to within minutes of ordering a full-scale nuclear strike.

In September 1983, a Soviet base received a satellite warning that five ballistic missiles were heading their way. The satellite had mistaken sunlight reflecting off clouds for the fiery plumes of ICBMs. The world was spared only because of the brave hunch of a single Russian officer.

In January 1995, Russian radar picked up the signal of a rocket which seemed to be heading toward Russia from an area patrolled by U.S. Trident submarines. The alert spread all the way up the chain of command to President Yeltsin, who is said to have taken out the "nuclear suitcase" used to authorize an all-out strike. The alert was called off with only two minutes to spare. The rocket was actually a Norwegian probe designed to study the Northern Lights.

Since this 1995 incident, Russia's entire early warning satellite network may have broken down, in which case it would be dependent only on ground-based radar, and blind to many potential attacks.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: Which means that Russian national command authorities, they would receive information about possible missile attack at a very late stage. They know that. And it makes them more nervous, and they could much easier interpret a flight of birds as a missile attack, and as a result the missiles could be launched.

NARRATOR: Some experts think that the major missile base at Svetly and even Moscow itself, could be wiped out without the Russians receiving any warning. Nervous Russian military commanders have less and less information on which to base their decisions.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: The problem is authorized launch based on misinterpretation or miscalculation...based on the wrong information. So the missiles...I doubt that they could fly by themselves. However, Stanislavsky, who was a very famous Russian theater director, he said, "If you have a rifle on the wall in the first act. It's a guarantee that somebody would shoot from that in the fourth act."

NARRATOR: For Colonel Petrovsky, enjoying a picnic with friends on a rare day off, there is no question that if that gun goes off, it won't be by accident. He also knows it was Anton Chekov, not Stanislavsky who said that. The Colonel told me he had never met a foreigner before our film crew, and he's never been allowed to travel outside the country. But despite these restrictions, the endless hours on duty and the problems with pay, the Colonel has no doubts about the commitment and morale of the Rocketchiki.

YURI PETROVSKY: I would describe it this way: a Missileer is always on duty. If a border guard protects the frontier of the country, a Missileer protects the entire country. In my youth, I was attracted by military service. I liked the idea of uniform. This was my first dream. It has come true.

NARRATOR: Now Evgeny Pavlov, a child of the new Russia, is beginning his career as a Missile man with the same certainty.

EVGENY PAVLOV: To be a Missile Forces man? I think it's to guard the peace, and keep the country stable. Because after all, nowadays nuclear weapons are a deterrent. So as long as we have nuclear weapons, we'll be ready to fight as we are now. It's unlikely anyone will want to challenge us.

NARRATOR: But today's challenge to Russia's nuclear security lies closer to home. A string of bombings in Moscow and elsewhere has shocked the public and politicians into awareness of the mounting global threat of terrorism.

RADIO VOICE: The attacking force is estimated at six people with small arms. Fight is in progress. Over!

NARRATOR: This training exercise, based on dealing with a terrorist attack, once seemed like something out of an action movie. In today's Russia it could actually happen.

ARMY EXERCISE FX SUBTITLES

"Armed assault on guard post 10 at 16.46."

"Silo defenders are in position and fighting back."

"I order advancing armed unit to go to Guard Post 10 to provide support for patrols."

NARRATOR: The menace of international terrorism has put the missile defense forces on high alert against possible attacks on the silos.

RADIO VOICE: "Number 2, call in the mobile anti-terrorist platoon."

"Affirmative!"

NARRATOR: After the terrorist actions, today's exercise has an alarming relevance. And by the way, they were using live ammunition. Before every spell of duty in the Missile Launch centers, the Rocketchiki undergo a series of psychological tests. The aim is to check their emotional state. Now it's obvious that people with a finger on the nuclear trigger should be in full control of themselves, but I found the process somewhat bewildering.

TATIANA ANISIMOVA (Psychologist): The first test is to define personality traits. And the second is not so much a test, rather to work out bio-rhythms. In assessing personal traits, and everyone knows it these days, it's been proved, on the basis of a person's attitude to color one can determine not only their emotional state, but also their qualities. As for bio-rhythms, a human being is influenced by various rhythms: the rhythm of the sun's movement, lunar movement and so on. And these bio-rhythms, date of birth, the lunar phase at that time, the impact of the sun on the earth in that year, on that basis the bio-rhythms are constructed.

NARRATOR: The psychologist said that if the bio-rhythms were negative, whatever that means, she would use additional tests to assess a Rocketchiki's fitness for duty. I wanted to ask her if she used tarot cards, but I decided this was not the place for humor.

This is essentially a man's world. Women are recruited, but only for support roles, such as communications. Unlike their American counterparts, the Rocketchiki have not accepted women for the ultimate duty of commanding missiles in the launch centers and probably never will.

YURI PETROVSKY: In our country, any member of the rocket forces is, in the final analysis, also a commanding officer. He has subordinates. He has people he has to work with.

EVGENY PAVLOV: If he is the boss, what's his attitude to the women? I don't want see that there's prejudice towards them, that they're offended. But it's bound to disturb things. At least it would disturb things in launch control.

YURI PETROVSKY: And another thing, our Missileers have duty periods lasting three to four days. For a woman, that's probably a bit difficult—although our Russian women can do anything.

EVGENY PAVLOV: After all, women are programmed to preserve peace, the world around them. That's their natural foundation. Men are more programmed for destruction, for war—no matter how strange that is, no matter how sad.

CORPORAL: Comrade Lieutenant, the men are ready for political education.

NARRATOR: These may be children of the new Russia, but their indoctrination has a decidedly old-fashioned flavor.

EVGENY PAVLOV: Good day, comrades. At ease. Sit down. Today's lesson is "Strategic Missile Forces: Guarding our Motherland." We were given the task of nuclear deterrence, to prevent attacks on our country, and to provide strategic stability in the world.

NARRATOR: On their 40th anniversary, the Rocketchiki commemorate their Memorial Day. Colonel Petrovsky shares the story of his early years on the base with the new missileers. It's a little education in pride and honor, but for the first time in four decades there is a new ingredient: truth.

In 1960, a missile exploded during a test launch, killing 92 people, including Marshal Nedelin, the first Commander of the Strategic Missile Forces. The terrible accident had never before been admitted. To many of the Rocketchiki, this admission comes as a revelation. For this new crop of young officers it bears witness to a sometimes tragic, but always heroic heritage.

For 22 years, Colonel Petrovsky has followed a successful and secure career on the base. The newcomers face a less certain future. Despite the insistence on tradition and continuity, there is a clear break between the generations. With the Cold War certainties gone and no replacement for the old Soviet beliefs, the young and the old march to very different beats.

Today Russia sees itself threatened not by nuclear devastation, but by guerilla warfare. While nuclear weapons are Russia's only remaining claim to superpower status, the leadership realizes that the threat of terrorist groups can be defeated only by a modern conventional army. But the Rocketchiki consume almost three quarters of Russia's military budget and big cuts are inevitable.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: President Putin clearly decided to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons because he realized that they cannot be used against clear and present dangers like Chechnya or Taliban. So that he clearly wanted to reduce spending on Nuclear Forces and invest more money into conventional deterrent.

NARRATOR: Russia's economic crisis means that the military pie has become much smaller and the fight for the biggest slice much more bitter. The Defense Minister, a former Missile Commander, who insisted that Russia must preserve its nuclear missile capability, was replaced. The Chief of the General Staff, who argued for deep nuclear funding cuts to modernize conventional forces, was not.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER: The conventional forces became increasingly in disrepair and, well its obvious we are not fighting a war with America right now, and no one's planning to. But we're fighting a war in the Caucasus against Chechen rebels. And the capabilities of the Russian conventional forces are almost all exhausted right now in Chechnya without getting a clear-cut victory.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: Russia faces potential problems not only with Chechnya. We are not very certain about the intentions of our Chinese friends. We don't know what NATO would do in the foreseeable future. Very popular idea here: they bombed Iraq, they bombed Yugoslavia, and they did not bomb Russia during the Chechen War because Russia had nuclear weapons.

Russia faces enormous separatist problems. And given 170,000 ground troops, it is impossible to sustain any aggression by conventional means.

NARRATOR: And in this unstable climate, Russia has adopted an alarming new policy.

ALEXANDER GOLTZ: For the first time in our history we say that we can use nuclear weapons in answer of conventional attack.

ALEXANDER PIKAYEV: So that Nuclear weapons which are still very strong, comparable to American nuclear arsenal, it's the last guarantee for Russian security. And based on our nuclear weapons, it's the only means which prevents our friends to invade or bomb Russia. That's the perception here, right or wrong. But that's the perception.

NARRATOR: The war memorial in the city of Saratov, not far from the base, commemorates the death of some 300,000 people who defended that city in World War II. For Lieutenant Pavlov's generation it's history. But for older Russians, the memory of nearly 30 million people killed is very real.

The horrors of the Second World War were quickly followed by the Cold War with its nightmare nuclear standoff.

RICHARD NIXON (President of the United States, 1969-1974): Last Friday in Moscow, we witnessed the beginning of the end of that era which began in 1945. We took the first step towards a new era of mutually agreed restraint in arms limitation between the two principle nuclear superpowers.

NARRATOR: In 1972, both superpowers signed the ABM treaty, which severely limited the development of any defense against nuclear missiles. They put their faith in the uneasy balance of terror called "MAD," Mutually Assured Destruction.

Twenty years later, with the end of the Cold War, the Superpowers began dismantling their huge nuclear stockpiles. Desperate to cut back on nuclear spending, Russia has destroyed hundreds of silos with the help of American funding.

In the first months of his presidency, George W. Bush reduced that funding, and declared his intention to ignore the ABM Treaty and create a National Missile Defense. As the first tests of the missile shield system went ahead, tensions between America and Russia rose. The United States was accused of taking advantage of Russia's weakness. Then came the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D. C., and suddenly relations between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin shifted again, this time for the better. Although the administration has said it still wants to go ahead with the missile shield, a new era of strategic collaboration between Russia and the U.S. against terrorism seems to lie ahead. It is in this swiftly changing situation that Russia could be tempted to deploy the new TOPOL M missile. To date, the TOPOLs are armed with just 30 of Russia's 6000 warheads. But President Bush's plan for an anti-missile screen have given the TOPOL a new relevance.

Designed in the 1980s in response to President Reagan's Star Wars missile defense, the TOPOL flies low to evade space-based attack, and sends out a scatter of decoys to fool enemy warning systems.

Despite the thaw in relations between Russia and the United States, there remains a threat that the scrapping of the ABM treaty could set off a new chapter of the old Cold War arms race.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER: Without an American ABM system the TOPOL...it doesn't have any meaning in it. It's just a ballistic missile that's not actually much better than any other ballistic missile. Its main features would be really important when there is an ABM system with which it could penetrate. So actually for the designers of the TOPOL, it's better that the United States quickly proceed to create an ABM system, because that would mean then the Russian generals who were pressing for TOPOL to be deployed already for several years will say, "You see that. We were right."

As it often happened in the Cold War, the military-industrial complexes of two countries, of Russia and the United States are sort of helping each other out all the time because one has no sense without the other.

NARRATOR: For his work on testing the TOPOL M at Svetly, Colonel Petrovsky was given an award by Russia's Minister of Defense.

Rousing music and a well-drilled parade precede every spell of duty, but they can't conceal the grim fact that the Rocketchiki could be heading off to unleash nuclear devastation.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER: They are considered the most sort of battle-ready part of the Russian military. They say that they can send their rockets up to go to the United States, Britain or China or elsewhere on the globe in about two minutes after receiving orders from the General Staff in Moscow.

NARRATOR: For more than 30 years Russia's Rocketchiki have headed off for the missile fields without ever having to do the ultimate job of the turning the nuclear keys. But ask them if, with the passing of years and the fading of old animosities, it's all just routine and they will tell you that they are as ready as they always were—just as ready.

YURI KAVELIN: We have no right to lower the level of our war alertness as defined by the President, the Minister of Defense and the Commander in Chief. The targeting and the precise functioning of the weapons have to remain at the necessary level despite the passing of decades.

NARRATOR: Svetly's 20 missile launch control centers are scattered across the barren steppes for miles around the base. Just 350 Rocketchiki have the ultimate responsibility of launching the missiles.

Command Post 97690 is a launch control center for the new TOPOL M missiles. It is inconspicuously located in the countryside about an hour's bumpy ride from Svetly base. During each three-day spell of duty, this will be the Rocketchiki command center and temporary home. This luxurious refuge for the off-duty Rocketchiki had never before been visited by foreigners, so it clearly was not built to impress us.

From here, two-man crews go out to the underground launch centers where they serve rotating six-hour shifts, keeping watch over the TOPOL M missiles. The 10 TOPOLs commanded by this control center are poised in remote silos connected by networks of underground cables.

Multiply the Hiroshima bomb by 350 and you get the total power packed into the nuclear punch of those 10 missiles. The launch centers for the older SS18 and SS19 missiles, with their network of subterranean tunnels, have a menacing feel. At least that's how it seemed to me as I followed a two-man crew on their way to the launch capsules buried deep enough to withstand a direct nuclear strike. Over the years, the working routines of the Rocketchiki have never changed. They ceaselessly check the readiness of the missiles under their control. The missiles are not currently targeted, but they can be aimed in minutes by commanders in Moscow. The Rocketchiki would never know where their missiles are heading. For Lieutenant Pavlov, the ultimate challenge lies at the end of the tunnel, the unthinkable moment so often rehearsed in the simulator.

YURI PETROVSKY: Attention, operational crew. Launch order received.

EVGENY PAVLOV: Order received at 16.52.

YURI PETROVSKY: Operational crew, prepare to launch missiles.

EVGENY PAVLOV: Affirmative!

CREW CHIEF: Attention! Go!

VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV: There's no question that nuclear missiles are not weapons of war. They are political weapons to solve problems. And these political weapons are still too significant in resolving disputes and conflicts. We must follow the path of reducing nuclear weapons, but making that reduction in a way which will preserve the current strategic stability.

NARRATOR: But for all the geopolitics, the job of the Rocketchiki comes down to one act, as simple as it is unthinkable.

VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV: Here's the nicest looking phone. On this, I can receive some interesting instructions from the top.

EVGENY PAVLOV: I think that at that moment when the order comes, I won't even spare a thought whether to carry it out or not. I will carry it out. Maybe thoughts will come afterwards, but when the order comes I will carry it out at once.

YURI PETROVSKY: Sometimes I've had thoughts about it. But you can't think about that all the time, so after a while it recedes into the background. But when you're on duty, when you sit at the control console next to the key, then, of course, you realize what power you hold in your hands. How many victims, how many cities would be destroyed? How many people would die? But if an order is given, it will be carried out. And only after it has been carried out will the Missileer start thinking about what he has done. But the job will be done, 100 percent.

How did NOVA gain access to the command and control center of Russia's largest missile base? Find out on NOVA's Website at PBS.org or America Online, Keyword PBS.

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Next time on NOVA, germ warfare. Do they have what it takes to make one? Do we have what it takes to survive? NOVA and the New York Times reveal the untold story, Bioterror.

NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston.

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to education and quality television.

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This program is funded in part by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. Some people already know Northwestern Mutual can help plan for your children's education. Are you there yet? Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.

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