Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Exclusive: CNN witnesses US Navy's drone-killing laser

June 18, 2017 (CNN) In the sometimes hostile waters of the Persian Gulf looms the US Navy's first -- in fact, the world's first -- active laser weapon. The LaWS, an acronym for Laser Weapons System, is not science fiction. It is not experimental. It is deployed on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew. CNN was granted exclusive access to a live-fire test of the laser. "It is more precise than a bullet," Wells told CNN. "It's not a niche weapon system like some other weapons that we have throughout the military where it's only good against air contacts, or it's only good against surface targets, or it's only good against, you know, ground-based targets -- in this case this is a very versatile weapon, it can be used against a variety of targets."
LaWS begins with an advantage no other weapon ever invented comes even close to matching. It moves, by definition, at the speed of light. For comparison, that is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM.
"It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object," said Lt. Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer. "We don't worry about wind, we don't worry about range, we don't worry about anything else. We're able to engage the targets at the speed of light."
For the test, the USS Ponce crew launched the target -- a drone aircraft, a weapon in increasing use by Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and other adversaries. Immediately, the weapons team zeroed in. "We don't have to lead a target," Hughes explained. "We're doing that engagement at the speed of light so it really is a point and shoot -- we see it, we focus on it, and we can negate that target." In an instant, the drone's wing lit up, heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees, lethally damaging the aircraft and sending it hurtling down to the sea. The strike comes silently and invisibly. "It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don't see the beam, it doesn't make any sound, it's completely silent and it's incredibly effective at what it does," said Hughes.
It is remarkably precise, which the Navy says could limit collateral damage in wartime. "I can aim that at any particular spot on a target, and disable and destroy as necessary," said Wells. "It reduces collateral damage -- I no longer have to worry about rounds that may go beyond the target and potentially hurt or damage things that I don't want to hurt or damage." All the $40 million system needs to operate is a supply of electricity, which is derived from its own small generator, and has a crew of three. No multi-million-dollar missile, no ammunition at all. The cost per use? "It's about a dollar a shot," said Hughes.

Today, the laser is intended primarily to disable or destroy aircraft and small boats. "It's designed with the intent of being able to counter airborne and surface-based threats," said Hughes. "And it's been able to prove itself over the last three years as being incredibly effective at that." However, the Navy is developing more powerful, second-generation systems which would bring more significant targets into its crosshairs: missiles. Those missions remain classified. However, the commander and crew are very much aware of the potential capabilities. When we asked Wells if the current LaWS could shoot down a missile, he said simply "maybe" and smiled.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Visiting the place where King Karl XII ended his life

The idea of going to Halden and Fredriksten has never left me since I started to make a careful study of  the Great Northern war and the Battle of Poltava. This year with the help of my Swedish and Norwegian friends this dream has come true. I got two unique Norwegian guides: Magne Rannestad and Stig Østling. These two men ave turned my trip into something unforgettable.The fortress of Fredriksten  was constructed  in the 17th century when the fortress at was ceded to Sweden in accordance with the Treaty of Roskilde (1658). The fortress was named after King Fredrik III of Denmark and Norway. There were six attempts taken by Sweden from 1658 till 1814 to take the fortress but the fortress withstanded bravely all sieges. On the evening of 30 November 1718, a bullet killed Karl XII while he inspected the siedge work near the fortress. Nowaday the fortress of Fredriksten is well cared for and attracts tourists from many countries. Magne Rannestad as a head of the Society of the friends of the foretress works hard to maintain this historical monument in a good shape. I was impressed with a very interesting museum of the fortress of Fredriksten showing its history since 17th century till the present day. The tourism infrastructure created since the fortress has stopped to be a military object came as a surprise to me. 


Oleg Bezverkhnii and Magne Rannestad near the monument on the place where Karl XII was killed in 1718.
Stig Østling organized for me a guided tour around downtown of Halden that was known as Fredrikshald between 1665 and 1928 and  gave me an opportunity to see monuments dedicated to Norwegian campaign of the King Karl XII of 1716 and 1718. Some of these monuments were very difficult to be found in the wild depth of Sweden and Norway.


Stig Østling near the monument erected in 1922 at the end of Galärvägen, where Swedish army moved twelve galleys over land from Skagerrak at Strömstad to Idefjorden. The aim of this operation was to reinforce the Swedish army prior to an attack to the fortress of Fredriksten in 1718.
Stig Østling has been to Poltava a few times and he can speak Russian a bit. In 2016 he visited a place where the King Karl XII crossed Dniper River in 1709 after the Battle of Poltava.
Stig Østling with the flag of Halden inside the reconstructed redoubt on the Poltava Battle field.
From time to time the fortress of Fredriksten  hosts the summer theater where the audience can enjoy classic and rock music. 
Summer theatre in the fortress of Fredriksten.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Trump, Putin reach deal on Syria ceasefire, talk Ukraine, cybersecurity, terrorism - media

July 7, 2017 (UNIAN) The U.S. and Russia have reached agreement on a ceasefire in southwest Syria, AP sources said as U.S. President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while CNN reported that the two leaders also discussed Ukraine, cybersecurity and terrorism.
The Syria ceasefire deal marks a new level of involvement for the U.S. in trying to resolve the Syrian crisis. Although details of the agreement were not immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren't authorized to discuss the ceasefire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, Associated Press reports.

At the same time, CNN with the reference to Russia's state-owned news organization Sputnik quoted Vladimir Putin as saying that he "had a very lengthy conversation with the President of the United States, there were a lot of issues such as Ukraine, Syria, other problems, some bilateral issues."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 20, 2016 (USA TODAY) The Trump administration greeted his Ukrainian counterpart at the White House with the announcement of a new set of sanctions on Russia – though Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko took the opportunity to warn Trump against future dealings with Moscow. In brief comments to reporters about his meeting with President Petro Poroshenko, Trump said the leaders had "some very, very good discussions" and that Ukraine is "a place that we've all been very much involved in." As Poroshenko arrived at the White House, the Treasury Department said it is targeting 38 individuals and entities "involved in the ongoing conflict" with Ukraine over the Russian occupation of Crimea. Russia "annexed" the region of Ukraine in 2014, and has backed pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine; the Treasury sanctions list includes Ukrainian separatists and officials of the Russia government.
Poroshenko, who called the White House visit "a great pleasure," said earlier that discussing Russia's president Vladimir Putin would be part of his agenda with Trump. “It is very important that my meeting, as Ukrainian President, in the White House will take place earlier than the meeting of Putin,” Poroshenko said in a statement, adding that his goal would be to "provide information and leave no chance for injustice."
Amid waves of tensions between the United States and Russia – including an investigation into Moscow's attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign – there is currently no personal meeting scheduled between Trump and Putin, though the two leaders may meet at the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Germany in early July.
Poroshenko, who had a pre-scheduled meeting with Vice President Pence, had a "drop-in" visit with Trump and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The talks took place amid investigations by congressional committees and a special counsel into any links between Trump campaign associates and Russians who sought to interfere in the 2016 elections by hacking Democratic Party officials.
During the campaign and in the months since Trump's inauguration, critics have accused the president of being too supportive of Putin, and expressed concern that he might seek to unwind existing sanctions on Russia. The Senate has passed a bill that would hit Russia with more sanctions over its election activities, and limit Trump's ability to undo any penalties on Putin's government requiring a congressional review of any such action. For its part, the Treasury Department said its actions Tuesday underscore the U.S. commitment to "maintain the strength of existing sanctions" as a step to resolve the Ukraine crisis – and the measures related to Crimea will not be lifted until Russia ends its occupation of the peninsula.
These designations will maintain pressure on Russia to work toward a diplomatic solution,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements."
Later Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer also affirmed the U.S. wants Russia out of eastern Ukraine. "That's part of the reason that there are sanctions," he said. The United States and Russia are also at odds over the Syrian civil war.
Over the weekend, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian warplane for the first time, an act Russia condemned as a "flagrant violation of international law." Russia also said it would treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft as targets if they drift into certain parts of Syrian airspace.

Back at the White House, Poroshenko thanked the United States for its support in its struggle with Russia, and said that "I'm absolutely confident that our effective coordination will bring the peace to our nation, to our land, and can support our territorial integrity and sovereignty." Trump was less specific in his own remarks about Ukraine and the conflict there, describing the country only as “a place that we’ve all been very much involved in” and “you’ve been seeing it and everybody has been reading about it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ukraine hails visa-free travel to European Union

June 13, 2017 (BBC News Europe) President Petro Poroshenko hailed the "fall of the paper curtain" at a gathering in the capital Kiev. He also opened a symbolic visa-free door to Europe, and met Slovak President Andrej Kiska, at the Uzhgorod border checkpoint. However, Ukrainians who want to work in the EU still need to obtain a working visa. Travellers departing from Kiev's international airport were treated to music and dance.
But in Russia, whose relations with Ukraine are tense, TV news downplayed the significance of the concession - and pushed the idea that the change would result in an influx of illegal labour migrants from Ukraine, and that the EU might eventually suspend the deal.
The visa-free scheme allows Ukrainians with a biometric passport to enter the Schengen area - including some non-EU areas such as Switzerland and Iceland, but not the UK or Ireland - without a visa for up to 90 days.


President Poroshenko opened a symbolic visa-free door to Europe and met Slovak President Andrej Kiska

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dutch parliament ratifies Ukraine-EU Association Agreement

June 3, 2017 (Interfax) The upper chamber of the Parliament of the Netherlands (Senate) has supported the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. The Dutch parliamentarians voted to ratify this document at a meeting on May 30.
"The Senate of the Netherlands has ratified the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. We are grateful to the Dutch parliamentarians for a wise and far-sighted decision that will benefit both countries and strengthen Europe," the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine said on its official Facebook page on Tuesday.

As reported, the Lower House of the Parliament of the Netherlands (House of Representatives) on February 23 officially confirmed the ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. To complete the ratification process, the Agreement should still be ratified by the government of the Netherlands.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

BBC team on the front line of the Ukraine conflict

May 27, 2017 (BBC Europe) Ukraine says 10 of its soldiers have been killed and 27 wounded in the east of the country in the past week. Diplomatic progress towards a political solution remains slow, weeks before a deadline when Europe must decide whether or not to maintain sanctions against Russia. BBC correspondent Tom Burridge, along with producer Daryna Mayer and cameraman Alex Shpigunov, travelled with the Ukrainian military to one of the most volatile parts of the front line, on the edge of the town of Avdiivka.