‘Laser weapons’ to define Russia’s military potential in 21st century – Putin

Russian leader Vladimir Putin says that laser technology will play a crucial role in the nation’s military might as he spoke about the “first practical results” of the country’s Peresvet combat laser system.

Putin highlighted the importance of developing laser technology, including the “tactical-level combat laser complexes,” at a defense-themed cabinet meeting on Friday.

Such types of weaponry will at large be defining the combat potential of the Russian Army and Navy… throughout the whole of the 21st century.

Putin said that the government will study “the first practical results” of the laser system Peresvet’s performance when used by the military. The cutting-edge weapon formally entered test service in December.

Combat laser system enters test duty in Russia...

Named after a famous 14th century Russian patriotic warrior monk, Peresvet was announced by Putin last year.

Nearly everything about the weapon is classified, even its exact purpose. Experts suggest that the laser, among other things, may be used as a jamming device or to neutralize airborne targets, including cruise missiles. Some said that military-grade lasers like that can be used against enemy satellites.

In his speech in March 2018, Putin revealed a number of brand new state-of-the-art weapons. Among them was the air-launched hypersonic missile Kinzhal (‘Dagger’), which later successfully passed trials and was mounted on MiG-31 fighter jets.

Also on rt.com From hypersonic glider to nuke subs: Meet Russian arms on brink of deployment (PHOTO, VIDEO)...

 

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‘Cultural schizophrenia’: Media shift to feelings over facts tearing US apart

Over the past several decades, US news media have shifted towards advocacy and emotional appeals, according to a RAND Corporation study. This is sowing discord in American society, award-winning journalist Chris Hedges tells RT.

The study, released by RAND earlier this week, cautiously argues that between 1987 and 2017, news content has shifted from event- and context-based reporting to coverage that is “more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals.”

While prime-time cable news shows and online journalism lead the way in this shift, it has been noticed in print journalism as well, the government-funded think tank concluded. This is contributing to what RAND termed “Truth Decay,” described as a shift away from facts and analysis in public discourse.

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“Cable news networks – CNN, MSNBC, Fox – have given up on journalism,” Hedges told RT, commenting on the RAND report. “They replaced it with reality-show news programs centered around [US President] Donald Trump and his tweets and the Russiagate. There has been a complete walking away from journalism.”

The award-winning international correspondent for several major newspapers who now hosts On Contact, a weekly interview show on RT America, Hedges argued that the deterioration of the American media landscape is “far worse” than the RAND report suggests.

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“Commercial structure that created the old media is gone and it has eviscerated journalism within the country, because it is not sustainable. We saw it with the collapse of the classified advertising, which was 40 percent of the newspapers’ revenues. It is not sustainable economically anymore,” Hedges said.

This has led to the demise of newspapers, both local broadsheets and major powerhouses like the Philadelphia Enquirer. Meanwhile, the internet media has created a “free-for-all space, where people are ghettoized into [groups] with particular belief systems or conspiracy theories they happen to have embraced or support.”

It is difficult to tell apart facts and opinion now, and people believe whatever they want to believe, Hedges explained.

“We spent years watching CNN and MSNBC promoting this conspiracy theory that Trump was a Kremlin agent… It was all garbage but it attracted viewers.”

When journalism is no longer based on facts, it becomes near impossible for the public to untangle what is true and what is false.

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“It creates cultural schizophrenia,” Hedges said, noting that he observed this during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when media drove antagonisms and hatreds between ethnic groups. Similar things are happening in the US right now, as “right-wing media are demonizing Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama by comparing them to Hitler and the left-wing media label all Trump supporters as racists and deplorables.”

“It all creates societal fragmentation and discord,” Hedges told RT. "These schisms could lead to civil unrest – that is what happens here."

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China, Russia… ‘we all have to get rid’ of nukes, Trump says amid reports he eyes arms control deal

Donald Trump has called on the US, Russia, and China to reduce their nuclear arsenals amid reports that his administration is planning to propose a landmark arms control deal with Beijing and Moscow.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, the US president said that he welcomed Russia’s efforts to help denuclearize the Korean Peninsula – but that more must be done.

“We want to get rid of the nuclear weapons, we all have to get rid [of them]. Russia has to get rid of them, and China has to get rid of them,” Trump stated.

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His comments coincide with reports that the White House is gearing up for an ambitious arms control treaty with Russia and China. The deal, still in its early stages, would impose restrictions on unregulated nuclear weapons and would call on Beijing to join an arms-control pact verifying China’s nuclear capabilities.

In past months, Trump has publicly expressed support for the idea of limiting or reducing the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear [weapons], which is ridiculous,” Trump said in early April.

The president continued: “I think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons. So I think that’s something that could be a phase two after this [trade war] is done.”

I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!

In December, the president tweeted that he wanted to make a deal with Russia and China to end the “uncontrollable arms race.”

The ambitious plan for promoting non-proliferation clashes with the president’s past approaches to arms control.

Trump announced in February that the US would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia. Moscow lambasted the move as a provocation that would lead to a new arms race.

Also on rt.com Pentagon eager to test banned missiles after discarding Cold War-era nuke treaty...

Trump may also struggle to convince the international community that Washington will honor any new arms control agreements. His decision to unilaterally pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran angered many US allies, and sparked accusations from Tehran that the US is incapable of keeping its word.

 

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Mask off? US ambassador to Russia says US practices diplomacy with aircraft carriers

The US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, says there is little need for his craft as “200,000 tons of diplomacy” are prowling the waters of the Mediterranean, unabashedly endorsing military show-offs as a political tool.

“Each of the carriers operating in the Mediterranean at this time represent 100,000 tons of international diplomacy,” Huntsman said in a statement to the US Navy’s 6th Fleet.

Huntsman was speaking aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, part of the dual carrier strike group that also consists of the USS John C. Stennis, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier. The warships kicked off their joint training operations on Wednesday. It is the first time since summer 2016 that two carrier strike groups have operated in the Mediterranean at the same time.

Speaking to CNN, Huntsman sang the praises of the US’ maritime muscle, calling US saber-rattling virtually at Russia’s doorstep “forward operating diplomacy.”

When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that is cruising in the Mediterranean – this is what I call diplomacy, this is forward operating diplomacy – nothing else needs to be said.

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While Moscow has long criticized the US military build-up near its borders as a hostile move further straining the rocky relationship between the two countries, Huntsman argued that such military maneuvers are somehow a necessary prerequisite for easing tensions with Moscow.

“You have all the confidence you need to sit down and try to find solutions to the problems that have divided us now for many, many years,” he said.

Each US carrier strike group comprises several vessels led by the carriers and dozens of aircraft. A total of 10 ships, 130 aircraft, and 9,000 sailors and marines are taking part in the drills.

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Russian Minister Denounces US Exerting Pressure on Venezuela

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that the U.S. had "dusted off the notorious Monroe Doctrine" to threaten countries like Venezuela.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Wednesday that the use of force to influence Latin American countries, by the United States, is "exerting unprecedented pressure" on Venezuela.

RELATED: Russia: US Wants to Revive Monroe Doctrine, Persecute Venezuela

"In the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. is taking up the Monroe doctrine, which aims to limit the sovereignty of Latin American countries, to put pressure on those who do not follow the same policies as Washington, as an instrument of pressure they take into account all possible methods, including force," said the defence minister.

"The best example is the situation in Venezuela, where the legitimate government is exposed to unprecedented external pressure."

On April 13, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also pointed out that Washington had "dusted off the notorious Monroe Doctrine" to threaten countries like Venezuela.

Lavrov said that the United States has so far failed in its attempts to force a change of government in Venezuela, but has continued to attempt to force the exit of Nicolas Maduro.

Recently Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova also warned the U.S. government against continuing on the path of antagonism and issuing threats to countries in Latin America.

"It seems that Washington is looking back on time and plans to return, not even 50 or 60 years ago, but 200, since John Bolton has declared again in public about  the resurrection of the Monroe Doctrine, which declared Latin America 'the zone of exclusive interests of the U.S.' in the colonial era," the spokeswoman stated.

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Iran Not Backing Down: IRGC Navy Vows To Block US Ships From Important Waterway

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

The spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, issued a statement on Monday that warned of "adverse consequences" if the U.S. ended their sanctions waiver on the Persian Gulf nation's oil imports.

RELATED:US Ends Sanction Waivers for Countries Importing Iranian oil

"Given the illegal nature of the U.S. sanctions, Iran has not and will not consider any value for the waivers granted," Mousavi said. "However, in view of the negative effects in politics of these sanctions ... Iranian Foreign Ministry has been continuously in touch with relevant domestic institutions while holding comprehensive consultations with many foreign partners, including Europeans."

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

Mousavi said Iran will take appropriate actions to counter the U.S. move, adding that his government will make it public. 

Not everyone in the Iranian government and military were as cordial as Mousavi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Navy, Alireza Tangsiri, vowed to take harsher actions against the U.S.

Tangsiri vowed to close the important Strait of Hormuz, which would be a major blow to the U.S. Navy who is currently docked at their largest Middle Eastern naval base in Bahrain.  

“If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” Tangsiri said, as cited by the state-run Fars News Agency. “In the event of any threats, we will not have the slightest hesitation to protect and defend Iran’s waterway.”

Iran's oil exports have dropped to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from more than 2.5 million bpd prior to the re-imposition of sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a briefing Monday, said "we're going to zero across the board," saying the United States had no plans for a grace period for compliance beyond May 1.

The White House intends to deprive Iran of its lifeline of $50 billion in annual oil revenues, Pompeo said, as it pressures Tehran to curtail its nuclear program, ballistic missile tests and support for conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

A senior administration official said President Donald Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will fulfill their pledges to compensate for the shortfall in the oil market. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Frank Fannon said Riyadh was taking "active steps" to ensure global oil markets were well supplied.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in a statement on Monday, did not commit to raising production, saying it was "monitoring the oil market developments" after the U.S. statement, and that it would coordinate with other oil producers to ensure a balanced market. OPEC is next scheduled to meet in June.

While Saudi Arabia is expected to boost output again, analysts fear the U.S. move - along with sanctions on Venezuela - will leave the world with inadequate spare capacity.

The international Brent crude oil benchmark rose to more than $74 a barrel on Monday, the highest since November, due to the uncertainty surrounding increased supply from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations, while U.S. prices hit a peak of $65.92 a barrel, the highest since October 2018.

 
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US leads effort to pump $10bn into Venezuela's shattered trade once Maduro is out

Having strangled Venezuela's economy with its ever-expanding sanctions, the US has now volunteered to negotiate a $10 billion trade aid package to give to Caracas – but not until its own protege is in power.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that the US has been leading the effort to salvage the Venezuelan economy, which his own country has been choking off with the long and continuously growing list of punitive measures. The help will only be available to the "new government" of self-proclaimed "interim president" Juan Guaido, who Washington has been backing in a push for regime change in Caracas.

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"We're going to be working on trying to put together a consortium of about $10 billion of trade finance that would be available for the new government to spark trade," Mnuchin said.

Venezuela has been battling with soaring inflation, which made basic goods unaffordable for the general public and gave rise to a flourishing black market. A shortage of food and water as well as near-daily blackouts triggered mass migration from Venezuela, as its economy lies in tatters. The economic woes have been exacerbated by political turmoil, with the US and its allies betting on Guaido to exploit the economic hardship and incite a coup against the elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Mnuchin was speaking several days after the fifth meeting of 20 finance ministers from the group of the so-called "friends of Venezuela" that he hosted at the Treasury Department on Thursday. The meeting also featured the chief of Guaido's economic advisers, Dr Ricardo Hausmann.

Speaking after the meeting, Mnuchin said that the ministers agreed to "support robust engagement by the international financial institutions to assist interim president Guaido's government as it prepares for new elections," noting that "very significant trade finance" would also be needed to revitalize the country's private sector.

For now, though, the US and about 50 countries that have vouched for Guaido will keep pushing to see him come to power.

READ MORE: US ‘seriously considering’ military option in Venezuela as Rubio seeks to declare Maduro ‘terrorist’

"We will continue to support Venezuela in its transition to a legitimate government as soon as possible to meet the people's aspirations for a better life and democratic future," Mnuchin said.

The US have already disrupted much of Venezuela's oil trade, which is Caracas' primary source of revenue, by confiscating assets of Venezuela's state-run oil and gas giant in the US and barring American customers from paying for Venezuelan oil, which led to a sharp drop in exports. In a fresh batch of sanctions on Friday, Washington placed nine oil tankers and four companies on the US Treasury blacklist. 

Mnuchin said that US officials took up the issue of financial aid to Venezuela with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The IMF has yet to agree to the idea, however: Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Saturday that it would take the “large majority” of its 189 members to greenlight the aid package, which is currently far from assured.

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US Charges WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange With Hacking Conspiracy

WASHINGTON: US prosecutors announced charges on Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.

Assange, arrested by British police in London and carried out of Ecuador's embassy there, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the American charges, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. His London arrest paved the way for his possible extradition to the United States.

Assange's indictment arose from a long-running criminal investigation dating back to the administration of former President Barack Obama. It was triggered in part by the publication by WikiLeaks in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.

The Justice Department said Assange, 47, was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain and charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

The indictment said that Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.

Representatives for Manning had no immediate comment on the indictment.

The Justice Department said Manning had access to the computers as an intelligence analyst and was using them to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have enabled Manning to log on to the computers under a username other than her own, making it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures, the department said.

Manning was jailed on March 8 after being held in contempt by a judge in Virginia for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in what is widely believed to be related to the Assange investigation.

Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for furnishing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks while she was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning's 35-year sentence.

The Obama administration decided not to prosecute WikiLeaks and Assange on the grounds that the work of the website was too similar to journalistic activities protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

SPECIAL COUNSEL INQUIRY

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also underscored the role of WikiLeaks in his 22-month investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election. The website published emails damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have said were stolen by Russia in a bid to boost Republican Donald Trump's candidacy.

The Justice Department said Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions concerning Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange in which Assange encouraged Manning to provide more information.

The department's statement quoted an exchange between the two in which Manning told Assange that "after this upload, that's all I really have got left," with Assange replying that "curious eyes never run dry in my experience."

WikiLeaks has faced criticism from U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a 2017 speech when he was CIA director, Pompeo called Assange a "fraud" and WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."

But Trump praised the group during the 2016 presidential race. At a campaign rally shortly before the November 2016 U.S. election, Trump said "I love WikiLeaks" after it released the hacked Democratic emails that harmed Clinton's candidacy.

Assange, who took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden in connection with a sexual assault investigation, has said he does not know where Democratic Party-related emails WikiLeaks published before the election originated, though he has said he did not get them from Russia.

The fact that the United States was pursuing charges against Assange emerged in November, when a document errantly filed by federal prosecutors in Virginia in an unrelated terrorism investigation indicated that he had secretly been indicted by U.S. authorities. The indictment was issued in March 2018, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

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