The Cheget nuclear suitcase helps the Russian President issue nuclear response orders from anywhere and is considered a symbol of the Kremlin boss’s power.
Video published by Reuters this week shows Russian President Vladimir Putin leaving after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, with a naval officer carrying a Cheget nuclear suitcase behind him. This is the rare time this powerful suitcase of the Russian President appears in public.
In America, the President is the only person authorized to use the suitcase containing the necessary tools to launch a nuclear attack. Meanwhile, Russian nuclear doctrine stipulates that three people own the Cheget suitcase: the President, the Defense Minister and the Army Chief of Staff.
In this trio, the President of Russia, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has full authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, and the Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff are responsible for consulting and confirming orders. Issued by the President. Therefore, the Cheget suitcase is still considered a symbol of the power of the head of Russia.
The nuclear suitcase carried by the Russian naval officer behind President Putin in Beijing is black, with silver trim, and is significantly larger than the suitcases carried by his other assistants.
The Cheget nuclear suitcase weighs about 11 kg, named after a mountain in the Caucasus range. It is an important component of the Soviet-era system of supreme command and control of strategic nuclear forces, with the ability to provide early warning information about any nuclear attack globally.
The Soviet Union created a nuclear command and control system at the height of the Cold War in the early 1980s. The Cheget nuclear suitcase was put on standby when Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. They were then transferred to former president Boris Yeltsin and later President Putin.
In the history of Russia in the post-Soviet period, there was only one time when the Cheget suitcase was under the control of the Russian prime minister, which was when Mr. Yeltsin had heart surgery in 1996. During the period when President Putin was in power from 2000-2008, there is no information that Cheget was given to the prime minister when he traveled abroad.
Cheget is a communication terminal that provides information to the user about a possible attack, allowing its three holders to consult with each other before making a decision. Inside each suitcase is a mobile device connected to the command and control network of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
The Cheget suitcase used by former President Yeltsin and displayed in Saint Petersburg has a relatively simple design, with 9 buttons and a keyhole.
Russian military television in 2019 published images showing the new generation Cheget suitcase model with a series of buttons, in which the “command command” area includes a white command transmission button and a red command cancellation button. The suitcase is activated by a special card and is located separately.
Cheget connects to the Caucasus communication system, including wire lines, radio stations and satellites, to ensure uninterrupted signals in all situations. In the event of a nuclear attack on Russia, three nuclear briefcases will immediately alert their holders.
The Cheget suitcase does not contain a button that can immediately activate the nuclear arsenal; it only serves as a device to transmit missile launch orders to the military. Suppose the Russian President decides to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike. In that case, Cheget will transmit the message to the Bakan terminal at the headquarters of the Chief of the General Staff, along with the strategic missile forces, navy and air force.
When receiving the signal, duty officers of strategic nuclear units will use their own code to confirm that it is a decision made by the President and, at the same time, establish a hotline to contact the President and Minister: National Defense and Chief of General Staff. Once confirmed, the order to fire nuclear weapons will be executed.
The only time the Cheget suitcase was activated was on January 25, 1995, when Norwegian scientists launched the Black Brant XII research rocket from the country’s northwest coast. Russia’s long-range radar detected the rocket as it increased altitude, with a speed and flight path similar to a Trident ballistic missile launched from a US submarine.
Russian nuclear forces immediately switched to a high state of combat readiness, fearing that this was the opening move for a massive nuclear attack by the US. The warning was transmitted to President Yeltsin, causing the Cheget suitcase to start automatically, and the Kremlin boss activated the nuclear key immediately afterward.
No retaliatory nuclear attack order was given, as Russian forces quickly determined that the rockets were flying far away from its territory and were not a threat. This is also the only time in history that a nuclear power activated its briefcase and was ready to launch a destructive attack.
Alexei Arbatov, Russia’s leading security analyst, once said that the Cheget system has serious vulnerabilities. The 1993 Russian Constitution stipulates that the Prime Minister will be the one to decide on a nuclear attack in case the President is unable to perform his duties.
However, the Russian Prime Minister is not equipped with a nuclear suitcase because the remaining two are in the hands of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff. This is very dangerous if a nuclear crisis occurs when the person with decision-making authority cannot order an immediate retaliatory attack.
However, even in the worst situation where the suitcase holders cannot give orders, Russia still maintains the ability to retaliate nuclearly thanks to the Perimeter standby system, which operates in parallel with Cheget.
The Perimeter system was activated when the entire Russian leadership was disabled in a pre-emptive strike. At that time, the decision to respond nuclearly will be made by a group of officers who survived underground. Perimeter is considered Russia’s final deterrent to ensure that no opponent dares to use nuclear weapons to pre-emptively attack this country.