Aside from expressing his gratitude, Putin did not respond to the Minister’s remarks, but their exchange finally got the media’s attention. Russian military experts began seriously to debate what the country’s leadership could mean by a genetic or psycho-physical weapon, and whether such plans were even feasible or legal. On April 6, the Independent Military Review, a respected weekly newspaper, published an analysis suggesting that Putin and his Defense Minister must have gotten their terminology mixed up. Genetic weapons, it pointed out, are hardly based on “new physical principles,” and more importantly, they would be banned under international law. “The use of such weapons would amount to genocide in the most basic sense of the word,” the military expert Alexander Khramchikhin wrote in the analysis, which was sardonically illustrated with pictures from the Star Wars movies.

The following week, however, the government’s mouthpiece newspaper tried to put these skeptics in their place. Not only are these weapons possible, they were already in development in the late 1980s, claimed Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the same paper that published Putin’s military article in February. “The U.S.S.R. surpassed the U.S.A. by leaps and bounds in developing weapons based on new physical principles,” claimed the paper’s military analyst, Sergei Ptichkin.

In the final years of the Soviet Union, there were two laboratories working on these top secret projects, Ptichkin claimed. One of them managed to develop a kind of radiation that made diesel fuel stop burning for miles around, forcing tank columns to stop in their tracks. Another one, allegedly called N 10003, worked on “battlefield parapsychology.” Before it was mothballed in 1991, the lab learned how to make super-human “bio-robotic killers,” who could survive even the “death rays” of the enemy. In a surprising bit of humanism, the lab declined to pursue the science of “psychotronic generators,” which could brainwash people at a distance, although this too was possible, Ptichkin’s article suggested.