Salute to Colonel Valery Yarynich (Passed away 13/12/2012)

E-mail Print PDF

It is my melancholy duty to have to inform you (see appended email from  Steven Starr), that his and my colleague, Colonel Valery Yarynich,  formerly of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, died yesterday  (13/12/12) in a hospital in Moscow. He is survived by a wife and two  daughters.

I last saw Colonel Yarynich in Sydney Australia,  last August, as I organised a speaking tour for him. The tour was highly  successful, and there was time for him 'to see Kangaroos and emus in  Gosford' and for a leisurely train trip to and from Canberra, where he  met with officers of DFAT, and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. The Australian trip involved speaking engagements with the  Australian Institute of International Affairs, The Lowy Institute, the  Centre for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, the Centre for  Peace and Conflict Studies and the Hiroshima Day Committee. It also  generated a number of media interviews, notably with Late Night Live and ABC-TV (various programs), and SBS. He made p2 of the Sydney Morning  Herald.

Colonel Yarynich in his earlier life, was deeply involved in the Soviet nuclear command and control system. He played a crucial  part in the operationalisation of the 'doomsday machine' or second -  strike system known as 'Perimitr'.  In his later life since retiring  from active service, he was very much involved in the campaign to lower  the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems, taking a crucial  role in the Foreign Affairs article 'One Hundred Nuclear Wars', in which 100 simulations of nuclear war are done, showing that arguments that  there might be a 'destabilising' 're-alerting race' if nuclear weapons  in the US and Russia are taken off high alert, are in fact incorrect.  Colonel Valery's contribution has been to show this with statistical  rigor. He also published widely.

I knew Colonel Valery only in the last years of his life, and it was my privelige to have been with him pretty much continuously during the last period in which he continued to promote de-alerting.  On the day before he left Australia, he mentioned almost casually, that he was due to go into hospital as soon as he arrived in Moscow.  I had replied something like 'then I hopethat after that we meet again in Moscow'. Months later, I heard that hewas in a bad situation medically, with a large tumour that had to be operated. I then had an email from him that sounded quite cheerful and hopeful. Then another silence, and an email saying the operation had taken place and he was weak.  Then yesterday an email saying he had passed away. So we never got to see each other.

Colonel Valery is not replaceable. As someone with nuts - and - bolts experience in Soviet nuclear command and control, who had come to see the necessity both to get rid of nuclear weapons and to lower their operational status, he wasunique. He was in a way, a 'doctor strangelove' who had come in from the cold. Such people are rare and irreplaceable. A chance conversation
with him in an anonymous cafe in Vienna over a beer led to the setting  up in Sydney of the 'Human Survival Project', dedicated to the task of  ensuring that decades down the track we are all still here to tackle  other problems of global justice, global warming, etc etc, by reducing or eliminating the risks of a self - made nuclear apocalypse.

My  most poignant memory of him comes from a four- hour train trip to and  from Australia's capital, Canberra. He pressed his face close to the  window, outside of which rolled a benign landscape with patches of  Australian bush and green fields with cows and horses.  He sighed, and  said something like 'It's so beautiful. I wish I did not have to think  of terrible things all the time'.

Those of us left will still  have to deal with those terrible, world-destroying, issues that were  your life. We salute you, Colonel Yarynich.
John Hallam
Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 21:44