Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will be “forced to respond” if the United Kingdom supplies Ukraine with armor-piercing tank munitions containing depleted uranium.
Putin reacted on Tuesday to news that UK Defense Secretary Annabel Goldie had confirmed that depleted uranium ammunition was part of a military aid package being sent to Ukraine along with Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
“The United Kingdom… not only announced the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, but also depleted uranium grenades. If this happens, Russia will be forced to respond,” Putin told reporters after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Kremlin.
“If all this happens, Russia will have to respond accordingly, as the West is collectively already starting to use weapons with a nuclear component,” Putin said without elaborating.
Responding to questions about the ammunition, Goldie said on Monday that “in addition to awarding a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will provide ammunition, including armor-piercing bullets containing depleted uranium.”
The ammunition was “very effective at defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles,” she said.
Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enrichment process used to make nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. Its heaviness lends itself well to use with armor-piercing bullets, as it helps them easily penetrate steel.
The United Nations Environment Program has described such munitions as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal”.
Britain’s defense ministry rejected Putin’s warning on Tuesday, saying the armour-piercing shells had been standard equipment for decades and had “nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities”.
The ministry accused Russia of deliberate disinformation for describing the munitions as “weapons with a nuclear component”.
“Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform,” the ministry said.
The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said on Wednesday that Putin had portrayed the munitions as “escalating to deter Western security aid despite the shells containing no fissile or radiological material”.
#Putin framed the western supply of exhausted #uranium ammunition to #Ukraine as a significant escalation to strengthen information operations aimed at deterring Western security aid to Ukraine and to shift responsibility for the negotiations to the West.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) March 22, 2023
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the UK’s decision left fewer moves for a possible “nuclear clash” between Russia and the West.
“Another step has been taken and there are fewer and fewer of them left,” he told reporters in comments quoted by Russian news agencies.
Russian politicians and commentators have made a series of belligerent remarks since last year’s invasion of Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow would be ready – if necessary – to deploy its massive nuclear arsenal.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an anti-nuclear organisation, condemned the UK’s decision to send the munitions, calling it an “additional environmental and health disaster for those experiencing the conflict” as toxic or radioactive dust can be released. .
“The CND has repeatedly called on the UK government to put in place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term health and environmental impact studies,” said the CND’s general secretary, Kate Hudson, according to Agence France-Press.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the plan the “Yugoslavia scenario”, saying the munitions caused cancer and contaminated the environment. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the plan shows that the UK has “lost its way”.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of Britain’s Royal Tank Regiment, said it was “reckless” of Putin “to try to suggest that Britain is sending nuclear material to Ukraine”.
He said depleted uranium is a common component of tank shells, possibly even used by Russia.
“Putin insinuating it’s some kind of nuclear weapon is outrageous,” de Bretton-Gordon told The Associated Press. “Depleted uranium is completely inert. It is impossible that you can cause a nuclear reaction or a nuclear explosion with depleted uranium.”
In a joint statement at the end of their meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin and Xi warned of steps that could push Ukraine’s conflict into an “uncontrollable phase”, emphatically adding that there can be no winners in a nuclear war. war.