The Kremlin announced on Wednesday that it had deployed its latest generation of powerful laser weapon systems to counter the stream of Western weapons flowing into Ukraine.

The laser, which Moscow claims is one of its “secret weapons,” has the alleged capability to burn drones flying overhead. However, the United States and Ukrainian governments had shed doubt on the capabilities and even the existence of such weapon systems.

Back in 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled an astonishing batch of what seemed to be state-of-the-art military equipment, including a supersonic weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile, sub-aquatic nuclear drones, and finally, a new laser system.

There were few details given on the new laser. What is known is that the system was called Peresvet, whose name was derived from a medieval Orthodox warrior monk, Alexander Peresvet.

In an interview with state-run Russian media group Channel One, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov claimed that the Peresve has already been widely deployed and had the capability to blind satellites at low Earth orbit.

“It is already being mass-supplied to the (missile) troops, and it can blind all satellite reconnaissance systems of a likely enemy in orbits of up to 1,500 km, disabling them during the flight due to the use of laser radiation,” Borisov said.

Borisov went on further, claiming that Moscow has successfully developed a more powerful laser system than the Peresvet, one that has the capability to burn drones while in the sky.

Deputy Minister of Defense Yury Borisov visiting Uraltransmash in 2016 (Russian Ministry of Defense, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Deputy Minister of Defense Yury Borisov visiting Uraltransmash in 2016 (Russian Ministry of DefenseCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

“But that, let’s say, is of today, or even in some ways of yesterday: our physicists have now created, and practically mass-produced, laser systems which are more powerful by an order of magnitude that can inflict thermal destruction on various apparatus.”

The new system, according to Borisov, was called Zadira, and the minister claimed that its first prototypes were already deployed in Ukraine.

“If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn up,” he added. “The first prototypes are already being used there (Ukraine).”

Casting Doubt on the Peresvet and Zadira

If true, the deployment of the Peresvet and Zadira will cause a major shift in the tide of the battle in Ukraine, as the Ukrainians have been known to be making great use of their Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones. According to retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan, such weapons could take out reconnaissance drones and artillery units that the Ukrainian military heavily relies on. He added that the lasers could also be used to permanently blind Ukrainian fighters, a strategy that is banned in international humanitarian law.

However, Ryan warned against taking Moscow’s words at face value without further evidence. A senior Pentagon official said in a news briefing that the United States had not seen any evidence of such laser systems deployed in Ukraine to confirm Borisov’s claims.

“I have not seen anything to corroborate reports of lasers being used. Yes, we’ve seen some open press reporting on that, but we haven’t seen anything to corroborate that,” the official told reporters.

Ryan cited several instances during the early weeks of the conflict when Russia tried to “awe the Ukrainians and the West with their supposed superiority.”

“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,” he added.

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For context, a real laser interception system would look much like Israel’s new Iron Beam laser weapon. According to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, it is the world’s first energy-based weapons system that can shoot down UAVs, rockets, and mortars for reportedly just $3.50 per shot.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked Moscow’s claims in a statement, even comparing them to the “wunderwaffe” – wonder weapons of Nazi Germany. The term was used by Nazi propagandists who tried to gloat about modern weaponry supposedly in the German military’s arsenal in World War II. Notably, this war propaganda, which was led by Joseph Goebbels, was used in the war to make Germans believe that they were winning the war.

“The clearer it became they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about the wonder weapon, which would be so powerful that it would provide a turning point in the war,” Zelensky said.

“All this clearly indicates the complete failure of the invasion. 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, “the Ukrainian president added.

Zelensky cautioned that Moscow would come up with more wonder weapons as Ukrainian fighters continued to push back Russian forces and liberate more territories.

“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.