Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Russia’s claim that it is close to introducing a high-powered laser weapon system to shoot down drones in Ukraine is wartime propaganda distributed by leaders afraid to admit their “catastrophic mistakes.” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said at a conference near Moscow on May 18 that Russia had developed laser systems that “are many times more powerful, allowing for the incineration of various targets,” the state-run news agency TASS reported.
According to the report, the new system has a range of 5 kilometers and was tested on May 18, incinerating a drone within five seconds. Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” The information could not be verified, and no pictures of the laser system accompanied the report, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 unveiled that a laser weapon was part of a secret arsenal.
The laser system is to replace air-defense missiles, which are much more expensive, according to Borisov, who also praised a Russian laser weapon called Peresvet, which he said was being widely deployed and, while it cannot shoot down drones, can blind satellites up to 1,500 kilometers above Earth. Zelenskiy mocked the announcement in his nightly video address, saying it “clearly indicates the complete failure of the invasion” and shows that Russian leaders “are afraid to admit that catastrophic mistakes were made at the highest state and military level in Russia.”
Zelenskiy said Russian leaders were searching for a “wonder weapon,” a reference to propaganda that Nazi Germany spread about nonexistent weapons that would ensure a turning point after it became clear that Germany had no chance of winning the war. The Ukrainian military earlier said its forces repulsed 16 attacks by the Russian Army in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and destroyed several units of Russian equipment, including eight tanks and more than 20 armored vehicles and shot down a Su-34 fighter jet.
But the military also said fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions had killed at least 15 civilians and destroyed and damaged dozens of houses. The claims of the Ukrainian military could not be independently verified. Ukrainian officials said earlier on May 18 that they were trying to negotiate the release of the remaining soldiers holed up at Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers at the plant — Ukraine’s last stronghold in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol — had “surrendered” by early on May 18.
All of them were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Russia-backed separatists. Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the numbers, and Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said negotiations for the fighters’ release were ongoing, as were plans to extract those who are still inside the sprawling steel plant. Reports have estimated that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters had been holed up in Azovstal.
In diplomatic developments, the United States said it was reopening its embassy in Kyiv, and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “The Ukrainian people…have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement announcing the reopening of the embassy.
The nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink is expected to easily win a vote in the full Senate after clearing the committee. Russia said it was expelling embassy staff from France, Spain, and Italy in retaliation for similar moves by those countries. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on May 18 that it had informed diplomats from the three countries that they been declared personae non gratae. In another retaliatory move, Russia announced that it will close the Moscow offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) after Canada formally banned RT and RT France from its airwaves.
RT has been accused of spreading propaganda and blocked in most Western countries since Russia’s launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova underscored that the decision was a retaliatory measure, saying Canada’s ban on RT had been “Russophobic” and said the CBC had become “propaganda noise.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed the decision, saying “responsible journalism — sharing what’s actually going on with citizens — is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin.”