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Russia touts new laser weapons, but Ukraine and U.S. are skeptical

A broken sign for the city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)
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A senior Russian official told state media on Wednesday that a state-of-the-art laser weapons system has been deployed for active use in Ukraine, a claim that U.S. defense authorities and military experts say has not been substantiated and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has mocked.

In an interview with the state-controlled Channel One, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said the country’s latest laser weapon, dubbed “Zadira,” is now used by military units fighting in Ukraine. The equipment is capable of incinerating targets up to three miles away within five seconds, he added, and is more advanced than the Peresvet, another laser system unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018.

“If Peresvet blinds an object, the new generation of laser weapons physically destroys the target. It is burned up,” Borisov said in the interview.

A senior Pentagon official told reporters during a news briefing on Wednesday that the United States has not seen any evidence to corroborate Borisov’s claim.

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelensky mocked the notion of Zadira’s use and compared it to “wunderwaffe,” or wonder weapons. The term was coined during World War II by Nazi war propagandists who boasted the lethality of modern military equipment such as cruise missiles, even though historians now say these weapons were far less effective than advertised.

“All this clearly indicates the complete failure of the invasion,” Zelensky said Wednesday evening. “But again, this also shows that they are afraid to admit that catastrophic mistakes have been made at the highest state and military levels in Russia.”

Putin claims Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses

Mick Ryan, a retired Australian army major general, who has been studying the Russian invasion, told The Washington Post that weapons like Zadira could take down reconnaissance drones or Ukrainian artillery. It could also be used to blind Ukrainian soldiers, a tactic that is banned under international convention, he added.

Ryan cautioned against taking Russia’s words at face value in the absence of evidence to support Moscow’s assertions. Since the start of the war, Russia has repeatedly tried to “awe the Ukrainians and the West with their supposed superiority,” Ryan said. “It hasn’t been working until now. It’s probably unlikely to work with an experimental laser system that’s yet to be proven to work.”

Days into his invasion of Ukraine, Putin heightened the West’s fear of nuclear warfare by announcing that he had put his nuclear deterrent forces on alert. His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, backpedaled talks of brinkmanship last month and said Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO.

In March, U.S. and British authorities confirmed that the Russian military fired two hypersonic missiles, but London downplayed the battlefield significance of those weapons, arguing that their use was probably intended to distract from Russia’s stuttering ground operations.

“The reality is there is no such thing as silver bullets in warfare. It didn’t work for the Nazis and it’s not going to work for the Russians,” Ryan said.

Peter Bejger contributed to this report.