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When the Alarm Sounds, Hunker in the Bunker

Does the revival of bunkermania in Russia and America herald a new Cold War?

15 February 2017

During the 1950s Americans grew obsessed with the radioactive catastrophe they feared would ensue in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviets. Many built backyard bunkers stocked with enough food, water, and survival gear to keep them alive for years.


Now, as news trickles out about the network of underground facilities built to shelter Russia’s elites from nuclear war, bunkers are in vogue in Russia too.


The latest outbreak of bunkermania started last fall, when Russian media began asking people if they were ready for nuclear war. 


On his show, prominent media personality Dmitry Kiselyov (pictured) warned that Washington’s "impudent behavior" toward Russia may have "nuclear" consequences, and according to the U.S. network ABC (which misstated Kiselyov’s first name as Evgeny), urged the populace to know the location of their nearest bomb shelter.


Shortly before the warning from a man known as the “Kremlin’s chief propagandist,” Russian authorities held nationwide civil defense drills to prepare the public for catastrophes, including nuclear fallout, ABC reported.


Then came reports of Soviet-era underground cities and guarded confirmation of Russia’s current nuclear safety net.


Although “secret bunkers and special cities” are under the command of the FSB intelligence bureau and the Main Directorate of Special Programs within the presidential administration, information sometimes seeps out, mainly from declassified KGB documents, reported Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH), one of Russian state media’s more reliable outlets.


The news site claimed that underground residences for the president and military leaders are located in the closed city of Mezhgorie, near Mount Yamantau in the southern Ural mountains, according to RBTH.


Built during the Cold War, the complex is often mentioned in the media as “Putin’s bunker,” noted.


Washington has apparently taken note. In its defense authorization act for 2017, the U.S. Congress commissioned a report on Russian and Chinese plans to ensure the survival of their political and military leaders in an emergency.


Ordered before Donald Trump took office, the study was supported by lawmakers from both parties who are concerned by the more aggressive military policies being pursued by both countries, Bloomberg reported.


Specifically, Congress tasked the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence to report on “the location and description of above-ground and underground facilities important to the political and military leadership survivability, command and control, and continuity of government programs and activities of each respective country.” 



  • Meanwhile in Karelia, near the Finnish border, Russians are being advised to avoid bunkers at all costs for health reasons. The bunkers in question were part of the “Stalin Line” defenses in the 1920s and ’30s, modernized in the 1950s, then abandoned after the Soviet collapse.


  • An environmental group is raising the alarm after measuring very high radiation levels inside the crumbling structures, RFE/RL reports. Fluorescent panels were installed in the bunkers for lighting, but they are still emitting radiation, said Aleksei Shchukhin of the Bellona group.


  • Officials say the bunkers do not emit radiation into the environment but fail to take into account that children, hikers, history buffs, and homeless people often go inside.


  • The head of the testing laboratory for the ecology commission of the Leningrad region’s legislature told RFE its experts had confirmed Bellona’s findings.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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Moldovan diaries

The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

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