Veteran and fitness expert Max Philisaire shows how to Max Your Body with typewriter pull-ups.
Developed in the late 1970s, Russia’s Kirov-class battle cruisers are the largest and heaviest surface-combat ships in the world — and they’re coming back with advanced weaponry, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
At more than 800 feet long, with a displacement of around 25,000 tons, the Kirov dwarfs any navy ship short of an amphibious assault ship or aircraft carriers. But only one, the Pyotr Veliky, is still in service.
Russian media says that another aging Kirov-class hull, the Admiral Nakhimov, is being fitted with Russia’s newest antiship, antiair, and surface-to-surface missiles.
Russia intends to return the Admiral Nakhimov to its fleet in 2019, at which time the Pyotr Veliky will be docked to undergo the same upgrades.
These include missiles of the Kalibr variety that recently hit targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea, Zircon hypersonic missiles, which are slated to be ready by 2020, and a “navalized” version of Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system, according to Foxtrot Alpha.
To accommodate these missiles, Russia plans to overhaul the ship’s vertical-launch systems. That contract alone is worth 2.56 billion rubles, or $33.5 million, NavyRecognition.com notes.
As with all Russian military expenditures, outsiders have trouble imagining how the struggling petro-state will pay for them.
Though the Russian navy has hit several setbacks before, the Kremlin seems hell-bent on revitalizing its navy.
The promise of this seemingly futuristic weapon system is no longer a thing of mystery, speculation, or sci-fi movies, but rather something nearing operational use in combat. The weapon brings such force, power, and range that it can hold enemies at risk from greater distances and attack targets with a fire and kinetic energy force equivalent to a multi-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, developers have said.
The Office of Naval Research is now bringing the electromagnetic railgun out of the laboratory and into field demonstrations at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s new railgun Rep-Rate Test Site at Terminal Range.
“Initial rep-rate fires of multi-shot salvos already have been successfully conducted at low muzzle energy. The next test sequence calls for safely increasing launch energy, firing rates, and salvo size,” a statement from ONR says.
Railgun rep-rate testing will be at 20 megajoules by the end of the summer and at 32 megajoules by next year. To put this in perspective; one megajoule is the equivalent of a one-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, ONR information states.
“Railguns and other directed-energy weapons are the future of maritime superiority,” Dr. Thomas Beutner, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, said in a statement. “The US Navy must be the first to field this leap-ahead technology and maintain the advantage over our adversaries.”
The weapon works when electrical power charges up a pulse-forming network. That pulse-forming network is made up of capacitors able to release very large amounts of energy in a very short period of time.
The weapon releases a current on the order of 3 to 5 million amps — that’s 1,200 volts released in a ten millisecond timeframe, experts have said. That is enough to accelerate a mass of approximately 45 pounds from zero to five thousand miles per hour in one one-hundredth of a second, Navy officials said.
Due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary. The hyper velocity projectile can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The rate of fire is 10-rounds per minute, developers explained.
A kinetic energy hypervelocity warhead also lowers the cost and the logistics burden of the weapon, they explained.
Although it has the ability to intercept cruise missiles, the hypervelocity projectile can be stored in large numbers on ships. Unlike other larger missile systems designed for similar missions, the hypervelocity projectile costs only $25,000 per round.
The railgun can draw its power from an on-board electrical system or large battery, Navy officials said. The system consists of five parts, including a launcher, energy storage system, a pulse-forming network, hypervelocity projectile, and gun mount.
While the weapon is currently configured to guide the projectile against fixed or static targets using GPS technology, it is possible that in the future the railgun could be configured to destroy moving targets as well, Navy officials have explained over the years.
The Navy, DoD and even the Army are also experimenting with integrating the railgun hypervelocity projectile with existing weapons platforms such as the Navy’s 5-inch guns or Army Howitzer.
Possible Railgun Deployment on Navy Destroyers
Also, the Navy is evaluating whether to mount its new electromagnetic railgun weapon to the high-tech DDG 1000 destroyer by the mid-2020s, service officials said.
The DDG 1000’s Integrated Power System provides a large amount of on-board electricity sufficient to accommodate the weapon, Navy developers have explained.
Navy leaders believe the DDG 1000 is the right ship to house the railgun, but that additional study was necessary to examine the risks.
Also, with a displacement of 15,482 tons, the DDG 1000 is 65-percent larger than existing 9,500-ton Aegis cruisers and destroyers.
The DDG 1,000 integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate more than 70 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to the possibility of firing a railgun.
It is also possible that the weapon could someday be configured to fire from DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Something of that size is necessary, given the technological requirements of the weapon.
For example, the electromagnetic gun would most likely not work as a weapon for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.
North Korea publicly unveiled a special operations unit for the first time during a military parade marking the Day of the Sun, the anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The soldiers were armed with grenade launchers and presented with night-vision goggles on their helmets.
“Once Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un issues the order, they will charge with resolve to thrust a sword through the enemy’s heart like lighting,” a North Korean broadcaster said.
The North Korean special operations forces marched across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang behind the Navy, Air Force, and other strategic forces. The new unit is believed to be led by North Korean Col. Gen. Kim Yong-bok.
North Korea’s special operations forces could be used to counter allied pre-emptive strike plans. Special operations troops recently drilled in preparation for a possible strike on an enemy missile base, the Korean Central News Agency reported. The force also practiced combating enemy commandos.
U.S. and South Korean reports have suggested that allied war plans include the possibility of “decapitation strikes” designed to eliminate the North Korean leadership. South Korea reported that this year’s Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills included exercises focused on “incapacitating North Korean leadership.”
“The KPA will deal deadly blows without prior warning any time as long as the operation means and troops of the U.S. and South Korean puppet forces involved in the ‘special operation’ and ‘preemptive attack’ targeting the [Democratic Republic of Korea] remain deployed in and around South Korea,” the North Korean military warned in late March.
The North also unveiled several new missiles, intercontinental ballistic missile models, during the parade.
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Amira Idris is a biomedical engineer who developed a device that helps amputees manage phantom limb pain. During her undergraduate studies, she worked at a prosthetic clinic where she learned that many patients believed their life was over after amputation. She became determined to help change that mindset.
Her work with amputees brought up the phenomenon of phantom limb pain, where patients experience pain sensations in limbs that no longer exist. Idris explained that the nerves are still there, but they’ve been snipped, so they continue to send mixed signals to the brain.
She got to work on a prototype to combat that pain.
She developed a product that stimulates the nerves with vibration therapy, which not only helps with nerve pain management, but increases blood circulation and reduces symptoms of arthritis or restless leg syndrome as well.
Her work led her to the creation of the ELIX, a patent-pending socially conscious wearable device that has been proven to help amputees with phantom limb pain.
But that’s only the beginning. Now she is on a campaign to donate 100 devices to veterans. She’s running a GoFundMe campaign to raise money that will directly go towards materials and supplies, product development, and manufacturing of the ELIX specifically to give to veterans suffering from phantom limb pain.
She wants veterans to know that they can sign up on her website to get the device, and is adamant about spreading the message that amputation doesn’t have to mean losing quality of life.
The Taliban launched a coordinated attack on the Afghan capital of Farah province on May 15, 2018, forcing the US to send in A-10 Warthogs in a show of force, according to numerous media reports and a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
The Taliban, equipped with HUMVEEs and Afghan police pickup trucks, attacked multiple Farah City checkpoints and took over an intelligence headquarters, according to Long War Journal.
“There is fighting still going on in the city of Farah,” Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, a spokesman for Resolute Support, told Business Insider over the phone, which “despite rumors to the contrary, remains on the outskirts of the city, three kilometers to the north and west.”
“You’ve got Army, police, commandos, and Afghan air force involved in the fight,” O’Donnell said. “Both Afghan A-29s and Mi-17s have conducted multiple air strikes, and US forces have conducted one drone strike. We’ve also conducted a show of force with A-10s.”
Dozens of Taliban fighters have been killed, and Afghan forces have suffered an unknown number of casualties, O’Donnell said, adding that he was unsure of any civilian casualties.
The Afghan governor of Farah province, Basir Salangi, fled the city of 50,000 people when the attack began at about 2 a.m., but he remains in the province, according to The New York Times.
(U.S. Air Force Photo)
O’Donnell said the Afghan government remains in control of the city, but ATN News reported that “at least three parts of the city came under the control of Taliban,” Long War Journal reported.
The “rebels had captured the 3rd police district and stormed the intelligence department,” Long War Journal reported, citing Pajhwok Afghan News. Taliban fighters have also attacked the city’s hospital, where they killed two wounded Afghan police officers. They may even be moving on the prison.
O’Donnell said that the fighting is expected to last through May 17, 2018, and that US advisers are on the ground, but not involved in the fighting to his knowledge.
“The Taliban have nowhere to hide,” Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support in Afghanistan, said in February 2018. “There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group. … We continue to strike them wherever we find them. We continue to hunt them across the country.”
The US announced in November 2017, that it would begin targeting the Taliban’s revenue sources, much of which is opium and heroin, with airstrikes. Some analysts have criticized it as a game of “whack-a-mole” since the Taliban can reportedly rebuild the labs in just a matter of days.
The US has been quietly ramping up the longest-running war in US history, going on 17 years, which the Pentagon says costs about $45 billion per year.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US Coast Guard rescued a Navy pilot whose jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys.
Lt. Russ Chilcoat said in a news release the pilot ejected and was rescued in early August with no apparent injuries. The crash happened some 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Key West. The pilot, whose name wasn’t released, was the only person on board.
A US Navy Northrop F-5N Tiger II assigned to Fighter Squadron Composite 111 “Sun Downers” launches from Boca Chica Field of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. (US Navy photo)
Chilcoat says parts of the F-5N were recovered but the rest is under about 3,000 feet (900 meters) of water. He says the Navy has no immediate plans to recover the aircraft.
The pilot is attached to Fighter Composite Squadron 111, the “Sun Downers,” based at Naval Air Station Key West. Officials say the jet was conducting training operations and the cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known.
Politicians who are veterans of the US armed forces have long touted their military records, or their connections to the military during campaigns for public office. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is no exception.
But Moore received some criticism on Dec. 11 when he applied an allegory that combined military procedure with a politically divisive topic related to some troops currently serving in the armed forces.
“I know we do not need transgender in our military,” Moore said during a campaign rally in Alabama, according to the Associated Press. “If I’m in a foxhole, I don’t want to know whether this guy next to me is wondering if he’s a woman or a man.”
The polarizing discussion over whether transgender people should be allowed to openly enlist in the US military has been a point of contention for some conservatives since President Donald Trump proposed a policy change on the matter in July. Moore, a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, has vehemently opposed transgender rights during his campaign.
But the term “foxhole” is not only interpreted as a literal defensive fighting position. It also invokes the intimate experience of bonds forged between servicemembers in the midst of battle — be it during the snow-covered Battle of the Bulge in World War II, or in the backdrop of picturesque views from Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Veterans and lawmakers came out to condemn Moore’s remarks. Some of them pointed out the damaging sexual-harassment allegations that surfaced last month.
“I’d rather be in a foxhole with the brave trans men and women already serving overseas than in Congress with a pedophile,” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former infantry Marine Corps officer and Iraq War veteran, tweeted.
“You won’t be in a foxhole. I might be, though, and if I am, I don’t want to have to worry my daughter might get molested by a US Senator while I’m gone,” David Dixon, a US Army armor officer and Iraq War veteran, said on Twitter.
Other veterans took issue with the exclusionary nature of Moore’s sentiments, which may contrast with certain aspects of warfare and military readiness.
“This is not a thing anyone who ever served in a foxhole has worried about,” Brandon Friedman, a former Housing and Urban Development official and US Army officer tweeted.
“In the Marine Corps, politics don’t matter. Your color doesn’t matter,” Lee Busby, a Republican write-in candidate in the Alabama Senate race and a former colonel in the US Marine Corps, tweeted. “You fight for the Marine in that foxhole next to you because you love them and would do anything for them. Alabama is no different to me. I am willing to fight and claw for every single person in this state,” Busby said.
In Vietnam, the troops Moore commanded derisively nicknamed him “Captain America,” according to a 2005 report from the Atlantic. Reporter Joshua Green wrote for the publication at the time that Moore “was so much disliked that he feared being killed by his own troops, and slept on a bed of sandbags so that he couldn’t be fragged by a grenade rolled under his bed.”
One of Moore’s former professors, also a Vietnam War veteran, reportedly said veterans told him that Moore, while on the ground in Vietnam, wanted to be saluted for his rank; a tradition that, while normal by military standards, is discouraged while in an active war zone.
“When you go to Vietnam as an officer, you don’t ask anybody to salute you, because the Viet Cong would shoot officers,” Guy Martin, former adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of law, told The New Yorker in October.
“You’ve heard this a million times in training,” Martin continued. “There’s nothing more telling about a person’s capability and character and base intelligence. It’s crazy.”
While the US Defense Department previously concluded, after a yearlong study, that allowing transgender people to enlist and serve openly would have a minimal impact on military readiness and cost, Moore has been unwavering in his opposition.
“To say that President Trump cannot prohibit transgenderism in the military is a clear example of judicial activism,” Moore reportedly wrote in a statement in October, following a federal judge’s decision to partially block Trump’s transgender ban. “Even the United States Supreme Court has never declared transgenderism to be a right under the Constitution,” Moore said.
At an October campaign rally, Moore said, “We don’t need transgender bathrooms and we don’t need transgender military and we don’t need a weaker military … We need to go back to what this country is about.”
Moore’s views struck a nerve with veterans
“Roy Moore — This is me in a real foxhole,” a widely known Twitter user who goes by the alias “Red T Raccoon” tweeted on Sunday morning with an accompanying photo. “I didn’t care who was next to me as long as they had the American flag on their uniform. Bigotry has no place in the military and especially the Senate,” the man, a former combat medic, who is now a veterans advocate, said.
Business Insider viewed the man’s US Army service records and independently verified his identity following an interview Monday night. He has asked to remain anonymous.
“A bullet or [improvised explosive device] does the same damage to anyone,” the man told Business Insider. “We all did what we had to do to survive and we all just wanted to go home. Sexuality or gender identity had nothing to do with those goals.”
“I treated good men and women in the field that never made it home,” he continued. “He has no right to question their service to our country,” the man said of Moore.
Following his tweet, photos of uniformed servicemembers — some of whom tweeted messages endorsing Jones — began to circulate:
This is me in a real foxhole.
I didn’t care who was next to me as long as they had the American flag on their uniform.
Bigotry has no place in the military and especially the Senate.
I’m a veteran and I support Doug Jones. pic.twitter.com/HF3fzJjgt5
— Red T Raccoon (@RedTRaccoon) December 10, 2017
Yep, I agree 1000%. My Battle Buddy (1990-91). pic.twitter.com/6hxK91mkq6
— Rick Williams (@RlwRick) December 10, 2017
This is me in Bosnia. I’m a vet and I support Doug Jones. He’s what we need in the senate. pic.twitter.com/1yHSmmCniU
— Alan Sandoval (@AlanSandoval13) December 10, 2017
Alabama vet for Doug Jones! pic.twitter.com/Qa9HdFN7yp
— Juniper Breeze (@Juniperb30) December 11, 2017
Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 12 special election in Alabama, the responses from veterans following Moore’s comments shows that the military, despite being uniformed in appearance, is comprised of political views as unique as the men and women who serve.
US Air Force General John E. Hyten, the Commander of US Strategic Command, made a worrying admission on March 20, 2018, about the state of US defenses against hypersonic weapons: They don’t really exist.
While hypersonic weapons are still largely in either the conceptual or testing phase, Russia and China have been making headway on their respective programs.
China tested a functional hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in November 2017, and Russia tested a hypersonic weapon only a few weeks after President Vladimir Putin boasted that he has an “invincible” hypersonic missile in early March 2018.
“Both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities,” Hyten said at a Senate Armed Services hearing on March 20, 2018. “We’ve watched them test those capabilities.”
When asked by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the committee chairman, what kind of defenses the US had against such weapons, the general responded, “our defense is our deterrent capability.”
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” Hyten said.
The general said that the only “defense” the US had was the threat of nuclear retaliation, adding, “our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the Triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
More specifically, Hyten said that low-yield submarine-based nuclear weapons were the primary defense.
Hyten added later in the hearing, responding to a question from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, that the US needed to “pursue improved sensor capabilities” in order to “track, characterize, and attribute the threats wherever they come from.” Detection of ICBMs is mostly done through satellites orbiting the earth.
The General acknowledged that there are still issues, primarily due to lack of resources and aging equipment. “Right now we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and our limited number of radars that we have around the world,” Hyten said.
Hypersonic weapons can be destabilizing. HGVs and hypersonic cruise missiles can travel Mach 5 and above (340 miles every 6 minutes), can maneuver to avoid ICBM defenses, and can impact a target just minutes after being detected.
The RAND Corporation published a report that predicts that hypersonic weapons will be deployed to the battlefield in the next 10 years. At that point, the primary defense against ICBMs and nuclear missiles could no longer be kinetic or proximity interception of the missiles themselves, but the Cod War-era concept of mutually assured destruction.
The US Marine Corps wants to add another title in front of some of its officers’ ranks: Doctor.
The service is establishing two pilot programs to offer qualified majors through lieutenant colonels with a doctorate-level education on the Corps’ dime, as long as they agree to stay in the service for an additional six years.
The program’s goal is to develop a “cohort of strategic thinkers and technical leaders capable of applying substantive knowledge, directing original research, and leveraging relationships with industry and elements of national security … to achieve the innovative thinking desired by the Marine Corps,” according to the announcement August 3.
“Uniformed doctorates provide the Marine Corps deployable, highly-skilled manpower in support of senior leader decision-making as well as helping generate national, defense, and service strategies in an increasingly complex world.”
The pilot will likely be competitive, since only four officers will ultimately be picked; two will be required to pursue a doctorate in strategic affairs, while two others will be required to attend a doctoral program with a technical focus.
Applicants will be required to already have a masters degree, or currently be pursuing one if they are applying for the technical doctorate.
The Corps wants officers to get technical degrees in operations research, modeling virtual environments and simulation (MOVES), information sciences, or computer science, the announcement says. Strategy degrees should be geared toward national security, military history, public policy, political science, government, or some other related field.
Applications are being accepted until the end of August 2017.
Russia has begun massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, starting weeklong war games the Defense Ministry says will involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.
The Sept. 11-17, 2018 exercises, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018) and billed by Moscow as its biggest in decades — or in history — come amid persistently high tension between Moscow and the West and are being closely watched by NATO.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostk-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the opening day of a Sept. 11-13, 2018 economic forum in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, is expected to observe the exercises briefly during his trip.
Chinese and Mongolian troops are taking part, amid ongoing Kremlin efforts to pursue closer ties with Beijing and other Asian capitals.
“We have a trusting relationship [with China] in the spheres of politics, security, and defense,” Putin said at the start of his meeting with Xi.
At a news conference after their talks, Xi also touted the relationship between Russia and China, which has a far larger population and an economy several times the size of Russia’s.
Xi, whose country is locked in a tense confrontation with the United States over trade and tariffs, said that Russia and China should work together to oppose protectionism and what he called unilateral approaches to international problems.
He said that an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical climate made partnership between Russia and China particularly important.
Up to 3,500 Chinese military personnel will take part in the “main scenario” of the drills at the Tsugol proving ground, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sept. 4, 2018.
Alex Kokcharov, a Russia analyst at the London-based risk assessment firm HIS Markit, said that China has never before participated in war games on Russian soil that were not under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Fundamentally, the goal of this specific exercise is to project Russian military power in the Asia-Pacific region,” Kokcharov said. “If Russia had not invited China, that would have been viewed by Beijing as a potentially dangerous activity by Russia.”
President of China Xi Jinping awarded the Order of Friendship of the People’s Republic of China to Vladimir Putin, June 2018.
Russian officials have said that the war games are not meant as a threat to any particular country but are justified by what Putin’s spokesman described on Aug. 28, 2018, as a hostile international environment.
Russia’s “ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country, is justified, essential and without alternative,” Peskov said.
On Sept. 10, 2018, Peskov called Vostok-2018 part of “a regular, routine training process aimed at improving skills and coordination in our armed forces.”
“This is a very important exercise, but it is still part of the annual routine development of the Russian armed forces,” he said.
Relations between Russia and the West have been severely strained by Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostok-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Shoigu said that about 300,000 military personnel would take part, twice as many as the largest war games conducted by the Soviet Union: the Zapad-81 exercises in 1981.
“In some ways (Vostok-2018) will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger,” Shoigu said.
He said it would involve more than 1,000 warplanes, helicopters, and drones; up to 80 combat and logistics ships; and up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles.
“Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles — and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible,” Shoigu said.
The drills are being held in Russia’s Eastern and Central military districts, which encompass more than half of the country’s territory.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin has coasted to a fourth term as Russia’s president, scoring a landslide victory in an election Kremlin opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said gave voters no “real choice.”
A nearly complete ballot count showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said on March 19, 2018 — more than he received in any of his three previous elections and the highest percentage handed to any post-Soviet Russian leader.
Voter turnout was over 67 percent and the other seven candidates were far behind, she said.
While tainted by allegations of fraud — in some cases backed by webcam footage appearing to show blatant ballot-box stuffing — the resounding win sets Moscow’s longest-ruling leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin up for six more years in office amid severely strained ties with the West.
Putin’s government-stoked popularity and the Kremlin’s sway over politics nationwide after years of steps to sideline challengers made Putin’s victory a foregone conclusion.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) short-term observer mission, told reporters in Moscow.
“But where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections almost lose their purpose — empowering people to choose their leaders,” he added.
Pamfilova said voting results had been annulled in five districts amid reports of ballot-stuffing, but she denied any incidents of observers being attacked or blocked from polling stations, despite apparent video evidence posted online.
She asserted that were “at least two times fewer” violations than in the 2012 presidential vote, which put Putin back in the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
The OSCE, which had more than 500 observers in Russia for the vote, said that while legal and technical aspects of the election were well administered, “the extensive coverage in most media of the incumbent as president resulted in an uneven playing field.”
Among the first leaders to congratulate Putin was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been handed a second term himself and appeared to be positioned for indefinite rule after presidential term limits were lifted last week.
Other authoritarian leaders — incuding Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro — were also quick to congratulate Putin.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has received crucial Russian backing in a devastating civil conflict that has led to war crimes accusations, congratulated Putin on a result he called the “natural outcome of your outstanding… performance.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Aleksandar Vucic, the president of traditional Russian ally Serbia, also congratulated Putin.
But amid worsening tensions between the West and Russia after the poisoning of a former spy with a potent nerve agent — an attack Britain blames on Moscow — many leaders chose their words cautiously when they spoke to Putin.
In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron wished Putin “success for the political, democratic, economic, and social modernization” of Russia, and urged him to shed light on the “unacceptable” poisoning, the Elysee Palace said.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman said at midday on March 19, 2018, that the German chancellor would send Putin a congratulatory telegram “very soon,” but also pointed to tension in relations with Moscow.
“We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticize Russia’s policies on some issues — Ukraine, Syria,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that it was nonetheless important to maintain contact with the Russian leadership.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned the fairness of the election and said Moscow will remain “a difficult partner,” although he added that the European Union must be able to continue to talk to Russia.
“The result of the election in Russia was as unsurprising to us as the circumstances of the election. We can’t talk about a fair political competition in all respects as we would understand it,” he said in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“Russia will remain a difficult partner. But Russia will also be needed for solutions to the big international conflicts and so we want to remain in dialogue,” Maas said.
Putin: ‘No new arms race’
The United States on March 15, 2018, imposed another round of sanctions on Russian entities and individuals over what Washington says was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Amid severely strained ties, Putin said on March 19, 2018, that Russia wanted to build “constructive” relations with other countries but that “not everything depends on us.”
Russia will not “instigate some arms race” and “will spare no effort to settle all disputes with our partners by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said, adding that Moscow will always defend its own national interests.
Putin — who warned the West on March 1, 2018, that Russia had deployed or developed formidable new nuclear arms — vowed to decrease defense spending but said there will be no problem finding money for weapons and national defense.
The editor in chief of state-funded network RT, meanwhile, asserted that Western policies and attitudes had prompted Russians to unite around Putin and made him stronger than ever. She seemed to suggest he could remain in power indefinitely.
Railing against the West and praising Putin in a tirade on Twitter, Margarita Simonyan said that “as soon as you declared him the enemy, you united us” around Putin.
“Before, he was just our president and he could have been replaced. But now he is our chief,” she wrote, using a noun — “vozhd” — that is often associated with Stalin. “And we will not let [you] replace him.”
Putin and the seven dwarves
Putin’s comments about foreign ties came during a meeting with the other candidates, whom he called on to cooperate and “be guided by the long-term interests of Russia and the Russian people, always putting group or party preferences on the back burner.”
Putin’s record-high official result put him miles ahead of the seven others on the ballot, who Kremlin critics have said were window-dressing to create the illusion of competition.
The election commission said Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin was second with almost 12 percent, followed by flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with almost 6 percent and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak with about 1.7 percent.
The four other candidates — liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, nationalist Sergei Baburin, Communists of Russia candidate Maksim Suraikin, and centrist Boris Titov — had 1 percent apiece or less.
Speaking to reporters after a late-night rally on voting day, Putin suggested that he would not seek the presidency again in 2030 –when he would next be eligible because of a limit of two consecutive terms.
But he left the door open to a potential move to change the constitution in order to maintain power past 2024 in some capacity, saying only that he is “not planning any constitutional reforms for now.”
Reports of fraud
With help from state media, Putin is riding a wave of popularity on the fourth anniversary of Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and in the wake of a military intervention in Syria that has been played up on Russian television as a patriotic success.
But reports of fraud dogged the election. Independent monitor Golos received reports of nearly 3,000 alleged violations.
Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist and data analyst who has studied fraud in previous Russian elections, suggested that nearly 10 million “extra” votes — apparently all for Putin — may have been added through falsified turnout figures.
Voters were bussed to the polls in many places, according to supporters of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader barred from running in the election.
They also reported hundreds of cases of alleged voter fraud, notably in Moscow and St. Petersburg, two areas where Putin has relatively low support.
Some voters in various regions said they had been pressured by their employers or teachers to vote and take a photograph of themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation.
While official turnout was robust even in Moscow, where it has often been lower than in the provinces, there was palpable apathy at some polling stations.
Some Russians said they felt powerless to influence politics in a country dominated by Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999.
“There is no real choice,” said 20-year-old Yevgeny Kiva, who was paid by a local election committee to wear a clown suit and dance with children at a polling station in Moscow.
Navalny, who has organized large street protests and alleged extravagant corruption among the ruling elite, was barred from the ballot because of a conviction on embezzlement charges he contends were fabricated by the Kremlin.
Weeks after a veterans’ health initiative received $2.1 billion in emergency funding, the Trump administration says the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program may need additional money as early as December to avoid a disruption of care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement Sept. 26 that it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors. The proposal, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would seek money to keep Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.
On Capitol Hill, the House Veterans Affairs Committee was already anticipating that the emergency funding approved in August may not last the full six months, according to spokespeople for both Republican and Democratic members on the panel. They cited the VA’s past problems in estimating Choice program cost. That committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said they were closely monitoring the situation.
“It’s disheartening,” said Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, citing his group’s continuing conversations with VA about Choice funding. “Imagine if a veteran has to cease chemotherapy treatment during Christmas.”
Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters, said recent discussions with VA also gave him little confidence.
“It’s always a concern,” Augustine said. “Legislative action needs to be done sooner rather than later.”
In its statement to The Associated Press, VA said it could not say for certain when Choice funds would be depleted, but acknowledged that it could be as early as December or as late as March. Earlier this year, the VA began limiting referrals to outside doctors as money began to run low and veterans reported delays in care.
The VA proposal for a long-term fix is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“We have a long agenda, a lot more to do,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told veterans last week at an event near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “This fall, our major legislative focus is getting the Choice program working right.”
The latest funding woes come amid political disagreement over the future direction of VA and its troubled Choice program, which was passed by Congress in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center that spread nationwide. Some veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees manipulated records to hide delays. The controversy spurred Congress to establish Choice as a pilot program designed to relieve pressure at VA hospitals.
Choice currently allows veterans to receive outside care if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. But the program has encountered long delays of its own.
In a sign of a political divide, the left-leaning VoteVets ran a $400,000 ad campaign earlier this month in 13 states that warned viewers, “Don’t let Trump privatize my VA.” The American Federation of Government Employees has been staging rallies to bring attention to VA job vacancies left unfilled.
The VA said it remains committed to filling agency positions even as it finalizes plans to revamp Choice. VA said it had about 34,000 vacancies, which officials attributed in part to a shortage of health professionals.
Legislative proposals to fix VA have run the gamut, including one backed by the conservative Concerned Veterans for America that would give veterans almost complete freedom to see an outside doctor. Another plan could create a presidential commission to review closing some VA medical centers.
“Congress can either double-down on the failed VA policies of the past or they can go in a different direction and empower veterans with more choice over their health care,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of Concerned Veterans for America.
During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by bringing accountability and expanding access to private doctors, criticizing the department as “the most corrupt.” At an Ohio event in July, Trump promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.”
More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.
Carrie Farmer, senior policy researcher for the RAND Corp., said the Choice debate raises broader questions about the role of government-run health care in treating veterans. To many former troops, the VA health system is a “medical home” where patients feel more understood by doctors specially trained to treat battlefield injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Significantly expanding Choice could upend that government role as caretaker, she said.
“The big question is ultimately who will be responsible for our veterans’ care?” Farmer said.