The Patron Saint of Loose Nukes

21 Sep

Never fear, !

At a special service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow the Orthodox Church and Defense Ministry officials celebrated the 60th anniversary of the 12th Main Directorate, which along with the Rosatom Federal Nuclear Energy Agency, is responsible for Russian nukes.

To mark the anniversary in the new Russian official style, top officials from the Defense Ministry and Russian Orthodox Church attended a special service held in Russia’s newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. An official meeting (torzestvennoye sobranye) followed the service in the Hall of Church Assemblies, which is part of the Cathedral complex. The meeting was reminiscent of Communist anniversary celebrations, but still distinctly different given that the top generals presided alongside black-robed Orthodox clergy (Itar-Tass, September 4). As nationalism has replaced the Communist ideology in Russia, the Orthodox hierarchy has been endorsing official events instead of Communist Party chiefs.

The rank-and-file of the 12th Directorate were formally blessed. The favorite Orthodox saint of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II — St. Seraphim of Sarov — was officially declared the spiritual patron-protector of all Russian nukes, strategic and tactical. An Orthodox Church flag with the icon of St. Seraphim was bestowed on the 12th Directorate.

St. Seraphim lived in the 19th century in Sarov. Renamed Arzamas-16 in the 1940s, the first Russian bomb was made in the closed city. Today Arzamas-16 has been rechristened Sarov, but nuclear arms research and production have continued. By coincidence, polonium-210, the poison used to kill former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in November in London, is produced in Sarov.

I think Arzamas-16 sounds much cooler, but a bit sci-fi. Anyway, hooray for St. Seraphim! I liked General Vladimir Verkhovtsev’s explanation about a 2001 admission, that Chechen terrorists had attempted to steal nuclear material.

On September 3, at a press briefing in the Defense Ministry, the present chief of the 12th Directorate, General Vladimir Verkhovtsev, told me that his predecessor, Valynkin, was misinformed, that there was no “attempt” to penetrate the S-shelters. A vigorous investigation revealed that civilians gathering mushrooms in the woods had accidentally strayed too close. Verkhovtsev states that today the security of Russia’s nukes is at an all-time high, thanks to U.S. aid through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Through CTR, the 12th Directorate received some 400 computers to help control inventory and 355 enhanced secure containers to transport warheads.

Mushrooms, get it? Too bad St. Seraphim wasn’t around then to protect them, or Russia

One day, while chopping wood, he was attacked by a gang of thieves who beat him mercilessly until they thought he was dead. Seraphim never resisted and was beat with the handle of his own axe. The thieves were looking for money, but all they found in his hut was an icon of the Virgin Mary. The incident left Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life. However, at the thieves’ trial he pleaded to the judge for mercy on their behalf.

No doubt, . But, who needs that with this blather. Indeed, Americans have a lot to learn from the Russians about crime prevention.

Verkhovtsev says that the Americans are too shy to allow Russians to visit their nuclear storage facilities in return, because the security there is comparatively flimsy. Verkhovtsev told me: “The Americans have a wire net fence with a sign that trespassers may be shot, a camera, and some movement detectors. In Russia such a security fence would have been torn down and stolen before long by citizens to use at dachas.” In Russia, they use barbed wire fences with electric shock cables, minefields, and concrete machine-gun positions. Now divine protection through St. Seraphim has been added. Together with CRT, this may keep mushroom collectors or Islamist terrorists out.

I think I’ll write the Pope for my own patron saint (I’m not Catholic, but what does it matter?), so that I don’t have to resort to the sort of website security measures of which General Verkhovtsev would approve.

Meanwhile, sleep easier now, and pray to St. Seraphim!

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