Strollers in Lviv

109 empty strollers are placed outside the Lviv city council during an action to highlight the number of children killed in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Friday in Lviv, Ukraine.
Photo credit: Alexey Furman/Getty Images. No words could possible add to this single image.

Alexey Furman is a Ukrainian freelance photojournalist and alumni of Missouri School of Journalism where he attended on a Fulbright scholarship. He has been covering Ukrainian daily news since 2009. In 2013 he became a frequent contributor to Ukrainian’s local edition of National Geographic Magazine.


Autonomous warfare

My prior posts gave only a short summary of Switchblades, Javelins and Stingers. They all have the capacity to search and destroy a particular target through cameras and electronic navigation. The Switchblade allows intervention by pilots on the ground to redirect the drone (missile). See prior discussion, this drone is a missile because it self destructs on impact.

Autonomous simply means there is no person is directly involved. If it is a vehicle, there are no driver or passengers aboard hence no one to protect. The general topic is referred to as LAW or lethal autonomous weapons. Much of my knowledge in this area comes from excellent summaries prepared by Wikipedia, using only public documents.

As noted by Wikipedia, the oldest LAW is the simple landmine used since the 1600’s and now banned by international treaties and policies. (The US did not ratify the 1996 policy) The problem of course, is that landmines keep on killing long after the conflict is over. A landmine is a good example of a LAW without any human oversight or control. There are “smart” landmines which deactivate after a set period of time.

The new innovations in LAW unfortunately drive a new arms race for both offensive and defensive weapons. A inexpensive $6,000 2-ft Switchblade 300 drone which can be positioned 6 miles from the target, dramatically changes on how wars are fought. But getting the drone to the right location in the field requires people. Well, maybe not in the future. The armored Humvees were designed primarily for personnel and light cargo transport behind front lines, not as a front line fighting vehicle. It is difficult to add a lot of armor and still keep it as a relatively fast vehicle (60 mph+). From Wikipedia:

“One suggested a future role for the Humvee is as an autonomous unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). If converted to a UGV, the vehicle could serve as a mobile scout vehicle with armor features removed to enhance mobility and terrain accessibility, since there would be no occupants needed to protect. Because there will still be tens of thousands of Humvees in the U.S. inventory after the JLTV [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle] enters service, it could be a low-cost way to build an unmanned combat vehicle fleet. Autonomy features would allow the Humvees to drive themselves and one soldier to control a “swarm” of several vehicles.”

So, interestingly, instead of upgrading the Humvee (usually at costs often exceeding $100,000) in order to protect the soldiers in case of an attack or IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the military might opt for unmanned Humvee that can carry multiple missile launchers or other weapons. They could get on location fast, and move off location as soon as the missiles are launched to evade attack. I would think the Humvee would be equipped with cameras to allow for manual override as necessary.

Once autonomous, the Humvee doesn’t need windows or doors. It’s not multi-purpose. It just to get certain weapons to a location as fast as possible.

It is another evolving dimension in warfare for good and bad. Per Wikipedia: “In October 2018, Zeng Yi, a senior executive at the Chinese defense firm Norinco, gave a speech in which he said that “In future battlegrounds, there will be no people fighting”, and that the use of lethal autonomous weapons in warfare is “inevitable”.[17] In 2019, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper lashed out at China for selling drones capable of taking life with no human oversight.[18]”

Obviously, the Switchblades going to Ukraine serve a good purpose, to deter Russian aggression and they have human oversight. But, imagine autonomous warfare against civilians to quell protests in autocratic countries, Belarus, Russia, North Korea, China, to name a few. There may be no people fighting, but there are people being injured or killed. Sometimes, entire cities are leveled as in Aleppo, Syria, because the government attempts to rout out anti-government militias. Even worse, if terrorists in the future are able to buy autonomous weapons. Or perhaps a sympathetic government gives these weapons to terrorists.

These are real moral problem that come with “no people fighting.”

Stay tuned,


Wikipedia, Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Wikipedia, Humvee

(Please never confuse this with the Hummer).

Switchblade drones

Switchblade 300 from AeroVironment website

Biden announced that the US would be sending Switchblade drones to Ukraine. These are called kamikaze drones because their purpose is to crash into their target, to destroy the drone and the target. The are called “loitering munitions” or missiles instead of drones because they can not be re-used. So, please excuse me for calling them drones, but it seems everyone is calling them drones.

Per NBC new link: ” Dubbed kamikaze, suicide or killer drones, these unmanned aircraft don’t fire missiles — they are the missiles. But unlike typical missiles, they can circle above a target, wait for the ideal moment and strike with incredible precision.”

They are really small, lightweight and inexpensive. The Switchback 300 is 2 feet long, weighs only 5 1/2 pounds and can travel 7 miles to hit a target. They are called “Switchblade” because their bladelike wings spring out on launch. The cost according to Wikipedia is around $6,000. This is dirt cheap, compared to Hellfire missiles at $150,000 each.

The Switchback 300 is designed to kill individuals. The larger Switchback 600 can destroy a tank or armored vehicle and weighs about 50 pounds. Its maximum range is 25 miles.

The drones are equipped with daylight and IR cameras to help navigate the Switchback to its target. The images are displayed on a laptop, so they can be manually piloted or the mission can be aborted, and the drone can be exploded in the air. More of the technical details can be found in the links below.

If you are thinking these kamikaze drones might be great for rebel or terrorist groups on a tight budget, you are right. One example from NBC News link: “Iranian-backed Houthi rebels used them [kamikaze drones] to blow up Saudi oil facilities in 2019.” They give several other examples.

Basically, I’m glad they are going to Ukraine, to hold out against the Russian invasion.

Stay tuned,



NBC News: Kamikaze drones

Wikipedia, AeroVironment Switchblades

ABC News:

What to know about the 100 US ‘Switchblade’ drones heading to Ukraine
Unlike larger drones, it’s not meant to return after its mission.

Aerovironment website

What Democracy brings to the Table

Before Putin, Russia seemed to be on a path to a more democratic government. Certainly under Mikhail Gorbachev (leadership positions, 1988 to 1991), a new openness and transparency (glasnost) had begun. Political reform within the communist party within Russia is called Perestroika. I note Gorbachev is still alive (age 91 years) and lives outside of Moscow. He has been critical of both the US and Putin.

I had a few conversations with friends of how democracies are terribly inefficient. The president has one agenda and Congress has another. And we may be entering one of these periods, if Republicans gain control of the Senate and/or the House. So, democracies bring with it, a lot of in-fighting between parties. Right now, very few Republicans approve of Joe Biden. They blame him for just about everything.

Companies seem so much more efficient. The CEO and Board of Directors sets out objectives, and the employees do their best to follow the plan.

We can see what a democracy brings to the table, by examining the autocracies. I will define them as follows:

“Autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject neither to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or other forms of rebellion).” Wikipedia

Churchill’s quote on democracy still holds:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

There are several pillars that hold up a democracy, to keep it from turning into an autocracy. First is the right of free speech and the right to assembly. The right to a fair trial is also fundamental to a democracy. It is the amendments of the constitution which put limits on what government can do. As Putin increased his power, critics were silenced. Television stations critical of the government were closed. Other critics have been assassinated.

The second pillar is free and open elections and term limits. They are not perfect. But they do result in no one being the leader of a country for decades. Elections should be the result of people making informed decisions. So, some awareness of the responsibility of the electorate, not to vote strictly on the basis of party line, is needed.

The third pillar is our constitution is the supreme law of our country, is not easily amended and can not be scrapped altogether. Otherwise, a strong president could be ordering changes in the constitution to favor his re-election and concentration of authority. What goes along with this, is a respect for the legal system, and the concept that no one is above the law.

The fourth pillar is our system of checks and balances, designed to keep no one branch of government as the exclusive source of power and authority. A good example is that every cabinet level nomination must be approved by the Senate. Supreme Court nominations are all subject to Senate review and approval. Yes, our checks and balances don’t work perfectly, but they are there.

The benefits to a democracy are best understood by looking what an autocracy lacks and how it can bring ruin to a country. We now see this nightly, as we follow Putin’s war. Putin is looking for support and he really hasn’t found it. No functioning democracy supports Putin’s invasion.

Putin is not faced with massive opposition to his war, because he controls the news stations. Anyone who protests the war will be jailed. No court is going to dare not convict protestors. No Congress is going to impeach him for abuse of power. No checks and balances. No fair elections. And way to transfer power when one day Putin steps down.

So, remember the 4 pillars, (1) The civil liberties from our bill of rights (2) Free and open elections, (3) Our constitution is the supreme law of the country and can not be easily changed and (4) Our system of checks and balances.

Giving up democracy to make the system more efficient or effective, is a terrible idea.

Stay tuned,



Wikipedia Autocracy

Wikipedia, Mikhail Gorbachev

Javelins and Stingers

Javelins are portable anti-tank missile. Stingers are portable anti-aircraft missiles.

A Javelin missile costs about $80,000 (Wikipedia) and weighs 49 pounds. It can be fired by one person. It has infrared radiation tracking to locate its target, which can be a tank or low flying aircraft such as helicopters. Per Wikipedia: “The missile system is most often carried by a two-person team consisting of a gunner and an ammunition bearer, although it can be fired with just one person if necessary. While the gunner aims and fires the missile, the ammo bearer scans for prospective targets, watches for threats, such as enemy vehicles and troops and ensures that personnel and obstacles are clear of the missile’s backblast.” Also, Wikipedia notes that the exhaust from firing the missile contains lead. Gunners are instructed to hold their breath during firing. The Javelin is a “fire and forget” weapon as after firing, the team can quickly relocate to avoid enemy fire. See links:

It is unclear how many Javelin missiles and launchers Ukraine currently has as they are actively using up their supply and more missiles are likely being sent from the neighboring countries. Wikipedia states Ukraine has 377 launchers and 1200 missiles. The actual number is likely higher than this as there has been air shipments from Poland.

Stingers are portable surface to air missiles, and similar to Javelins, they can be fired by one person, but usually a team of two is used. A stinger weighs 33.5 pounds, and has IR and UV detectors to track the target. Apparently, adding UV detection increases the reliability of target seeking electronics. The missile is also capable of being deployed from a Humvee Stinger rack, and can be used by airborne troops. A helicopter launched version exists called Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS).

Stingers are also “fire and forget” missiles giving the team an opportunity to relocate after launch.

As shown above, a small ejection motor in located behind the missile. The motor pushes the missile out a safe distance from the operator before engaging the main two-stage solid-fuel sustainer, keeping the gunner safe from the missile thrust. (Wikipedia) The cost of stinger missile is $119,000.

Wikipedia reports that the US has sent 2,000 stingers to Ukraine. It is always difficult to know how many Ukraine has available at any moment, as they are being used and more are being slipped into Ukraine.

More technical details can be found in the links.

Stay tuned,



Wikipedia, Javelins

Wikipedia, Stingers

There are many informative websites on these missiles, and their use in the Ukrainian war.

On the Ukraine War

The Ukraine war is a lose-lose proposition. It is a modern war, with cyberattacks and footage of the fighting streaming over the internet. It is an unprovoked and unnecessary war. Every war is bloody and inhumane, in terms of loss of civilian life. I’ve seen the results of war, and it is extremely sad.

This war began with a very wrong assumption from Putin. In view of the vastly superior military force of Russia, he thought Kyiv would quickly surrender. After surrender, a puppet government would be installed. Over time, Ukraine would take their orders from Moscow. It was all in the mind of Putin. He could go back in time, and redraw the borders of Ukraine. This is Putin’s personal and deranged fantasy.

Putin’s justification for invasion is founded on the idea of the redefining Russia along historical borders of the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. A full generation has past. In fact, he goes so far back in time, that he recalls World War II in a very twisted narrative, to somehow paint Russia as a victim for which he must now extract revenge on the grandchildren of those who fought in the great war. Wars should not beget wars. Wars should beget peace.

If the fallen soldiers of decades gone by could speak, they would be begging for peace.

In Putin’s mind, he is correcting the errors of the past when Ukraine won its independence. Peace among nations must be founded on respect of international law and agreed upon boundaries as they exist, no matter how long ago or ill advised they have been drawn. It is the principle that we may not socialize with each other or even like each other, but for our continued survival, we must respect each other, and the territorial boundaries. Otherwise, we return to the law of the jungle.

This perspective was brought forward by the Ghana representative to the UN in the Security Council and later repeated by Fareed Zakaria on CNN. He observed the African continent was subdivided by European colonists, disregarding cultural and linguistic differences. Yet, these border have remained. Respect of territorial boundaries is imperative for peace and disagreements are settled by dialogue not weapons.

The leaders of Europe and United States gave Putin full notice that they would do everything within their power to resist the invasion within the law. However they would not escalate the conflict. No boots on the ground was the right policy. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and as Biden said, once Russians and the US are fighting on the same battlefield, then you have World War III.

Weapon systems have increased, and the potential of escalation is really frightening. Cluster bombs are meant to keep on killing long after a bomb has been dropped. Vacuum bombs (“mother of all bombs”) with the intense heat, are similar to nuclear bombs, designed to wipe out entire populations in a large area.

Our planet in the last 20 to 30 years seems to have gotten much smaller. Cyberwarfare is real and powerful. It is a new element of aggressive military action. Drone warfare is also new and lethal. These are both offensive and defense weapons. These are new elements might seem more humane, but the war is still as bloody and brutal as ever.

The invasion of Ukraine was immediately condemn by world leaders, The Secretary-General of the UN Security Council Antonio Guterres said it best nearly a week ago, “Bring the troops back to Russia” – see link. Unfortunately, although countries like Russia, Iran, North Korea and China still will still find ways to censor the news to create their own alternative facts. It feels like part of our planet is fully illuminated or at least truth is very available and others parts are kept in the dark. Information and misinformation travel fast, at the speed of light. To Putin and others, truth is just another enemy. Anti-war protesters were beaten by the police in the streets of St Petersburg.

Putin’s war further advances the militarization of our planet. It is a huge step backwards. The UN was formed to prevent conflicts like this one. I feel no safer if in the future, the western border of Ukraine is heavily armed by NATO forces against military bases of Russia on the other side. I felt as if when the windows were being blown out of apartment buildings in Ukraine, as if the windows on the UN were also shattering.

I kept thinking of how beautify and perfect our blue planet looked, when we saw it from space without any boundaries. Just water and land. In the words of the late Elijah Cummings, “We can do better.” How to get back to a more demilitarized world, I’m not exactly sure.

Stay tuned,



I will not list a long list of links, as these can easily be found on the internet.

Antonio Guterres, Statement to the Press

(Antonio Guterres is the former Prime Minister of Portugal. He has been the Secretary-General of the UN Security Council since 2017. He chooses his words carefully. He was pleading with Russia to reverse course, to no avail.)

Ukraine End Game

Invasions don’t end very well. War is always a “lose-lose” proposition. Putin is discovering that his invasion of Ukraine is not easy to implement. As I see it, there are two “end games” and I hope the second one prevails.

Putin wants to eliminate (murder) the president and all important leaders of Ukraine. With control of Kyiv, he will find someone who will be his puppet president in Kyiv. Then, the puppet president will ask Russia for assistance in bringing order to Ukraine. At that point, Ukraine is effectively controlled by Russia.

The puppet president of Ukraine will, with Putin’s blessing, be as corrupt and uncaring about Ukraine. There is no way that Ukraine will accept Russian rule.

The country may be split, east and west, with Putin firmly in control of the east. This will never be a satisfactory outcome for Putin, who will continue to attack the west. He will reduce Lviv to rubble. He must control the entire country to secure his gas pipelines.

Putin will use the Wagner Group’s mercanaries to carry out the assassinations. The “Wagner Group” operates for profit, benefiting from conflicts around the globe, including Syria, Crimea, Central African Republic and Libya. And of course, Ukraine, initially in the Dunbas region. It is likely that the Wagner Group is or will become just an extension of Russia’s GRU (international intelligence service). It has been reported that the GRU basically hands out Russian passports to members of the Wagner Group. (see links below). The GRU is responsible for the cyberwarfare being conducted against Ukraine.

There can even be elections, like in Belarus, with the puppet president gaining the vast majority of the votes. The Russian government can not control the flow of information, in this day of internet and satellites.

The second end game, is that there is enough pressure from within Russia, to reverse course. Kyiv is not captured. The Russian convoy suffers massive damage, and there is little will to fight an urban war in Kyiv. The armored column can not enter the narrow streets of Kyiv. So, some face saving peace plan is devised for Putin to withdraw his forces. The next few days will be critical.

I am hoping and praying for the second end game.

Stay tuned,



Wikipedia, Wagner Group.

Wikipedia, Russia’s GRU

Fox News – Mike Baker, former CIA

It is rare that I include the very biased Fox News station as a source. I note Fox News contributor (former CIA officer, Mike Baker) added valuable information on the connection of the GRU and the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group was battling ISIS in Syria and then in Libya in support of the Tobruk faction. His views on Chechnya’s involvement and use of these forces as “plausible deniability” for war time atracities is also consistent with other experts in the area. Kennedy’s glib remarks were annoying but I guess that’s her style.

Friends of Putin

The invasion of Ukraine is such a blantant unproked act of aggression, that is would seem no country on our planet would support Putin’s war. But, three countries have, Belarus, Iran and Chechnya. And I suspect others will follow, such as Syria and North Korea. Other countries will simply look the other way, such as India, China and UAE, which abstained when a vote was taken in the UN Security Council.

Chechnya and Belarus are essentially corrupt puppet regimes of Putin. Currently, Chechnya is now under the rule of its Russian-appointed dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov, with no respect for human rights and will plunder his country just like multi-billionaire Putin (see links). Belarus president . Alexander Lukascheko won his sixth term in office in 2020 in a rigged election (links below).

No need to go into detail on Syria’s and North Korea’s presidents. They have little respect for international law. Iran is a supporter of terrorism, in Iraq and Lebonon.

We shall see after the General Assembly votes today, which other countries support the invasion of Ukraine and which ones would prefer to look the other way. As members vote, the war will rage on.

The news is filled with the 40 mile long convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles, all headed to Kyiv. Today could be the bloodiest day of all. My prayers go to the brave Ukrainians as they defend their country.

Stay tuned,



Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus

Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Chechbya

The Russian Military Leader Wears Prada (Ramzan Kadyrov)

Ukraine wipes out ‘bloodthirsty’ Chechen special forces sent to assassinate Zelensky (other sources state that there have been some causalities, so wiped out may be an exagerration)

Iran’s Khamenei: ‘Mafia regime’ of US created Ukraine crisis