For Newsweek, Jon Jackson with Sean Spoonts at SOFREP

Everywhere President Joe Biden goes, he is accompanied by a nondescript briefcase. Though it looks harmless, the black briefcase contains within it the power to destroy civilization as we know it. The leather container is better known as the “nuclear football,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin has his own version of the briefcase.

Carried by one of six rotating aides, the American nuclear football—officially named the Presidential Emergency Satchel—functions as a mobile strategic defense hub should the president need to authorize a nuclear strike while away from command centers at the White House. The nickname “nuclear football” reportedly came from an early plan for launching a war called “Operation Dropkick,” and every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has traveled with the briefcase in tow.

Despite popular belief, there is no button inside the U.S. nuclear football to launch nukes. According to former White House Military Office Director Bill Gulley’s 1980 book Breaking Cover, the briefcase contains authentication codes, a list of secure bunkers for the president, and instructions for using the Emergency Broadcast System.

Since Putin ordered his military to attack Ukraine in late February, various experts have warned about the possibility he could turn to using nuclear weapons. Those concerns have grown as his military campaign continues to struggle, which has raised questions about Russia’s nuclear procedures, including Putin’s version of a nuclear football.

The Russian portable nuclear hub is also contained in a briefcase, although it’s known as the “Cheget.” Named after a mountain in Russia’s Caucasus region, the Cheget is also always near Putin’s side. Not as much is known about the Cheget as its American counterpart, but Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote that the Kremlin briefcase first came into use in 1983.

In this combination image, Vladimir Putin (left) arrives in France with one of his aides carrying the nuclear briefcase, 2019. A White House military aide (right) carries the “nuclear football” as he leaves the White House. (Getty Images by Newsweek)

The team at Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP) said the Cheget also doesn’t contain a nuclear launch button, but it does transmit launch orders to the central military command of Russia’s general staff. The general staff also have their own backup command system called the Perimeter, also known as the “Dead Hand,” which allows them to bypass immediate command posts and initiate the launch of land-based missiles. The Perimeter is said to have been created in the event that the Russian president and his deputies are all taken out by a first strike.

Although there have been no known instances of a U.S. president using a nuclear football, the Cheget has been operated on at least one occasion. This occurred in 1995 when Norway launched a missile for a scientific study of the Northern Lights, which Russian radars detected.