Yeltsin’s close nuclear call

It’s January 25, 1995 and you’re President Boris Yeltsin activating the “nuclear briefcase”.

The military chain of command notifies you of the early-warning from the fleet of satellites and now in your hands are nuclear keys that activate a nuclear briefcase, which authorizes a  nuclear launch. As the first president of Russia, you won’t tell the Russian populace about these minutes of post-Cold War nuclear tension now. This can be – and is – reported in the news next week.

What matters at this moment is knowing whether the U.S. launched a precursor attack and how incentivized Russia is on launching its missiles now. 

You’re aware that this could be the potential misinterpretation of a benign event, but Russia has monitored and incorporated characteristics of Trident test flights into its computer programs.  Will this rocket knock out Russian detection systems with a high-altitude nuclear airburst (a detonation of a nuclear warhead high in the atmosphere)?

If you were a historian – you’re not, remember you’re President Boris Yeltsin – this would be “the first and thus far only known incident where any nuclear-weapons state had its nuclear briefcase activated and prepared for launching an attack.”

But wait! 

The Russian control center relays another message: the Norwegian scientific rocket appears to be headed out to sea, rather than toward Russia.  The rocket wasn’t fired from the continental U.S., but from Andoya, an island off of Norway.

Oy, we will die a different day. You swill vodka and exhale.