Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will be “forced to react” if the UK supplies to Ukraine with armor-piercing tank ammunition containing depleted uranium.
Putin was reacting on Tuesday to the news that British Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie had confirmed that munitions containing depleted uranium were part of a military aid program sent to Ukraine with tanks from Challenger 2 fight.
“The UK…announced not only the supply of tanks to Ukraine, but also DU shells. If that happens, Russia will be forced to react,” Putin told reporters after talks with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the Kremlin.
“If all of this happens, Russia will have to react accordingly, given that the West is already collectively starting to use nuclear-component weapons,” Putin said, without giving further details.
In response to questions about ammunition, Goldie said on Monday that “along with our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition, including armour-piercing shells containing uranium impoverished”.
The ammunition was “very effective in 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 to use in armour-piercing cartridges as it helps them easily penetrate steel.
The United Nations Environment Program has classified these munitions as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metals”.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense on Tuesday dismissed Putin’s warning, saying armor-piercing shells had been standard equipment for decades and had “nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities”.
The ministry accused Russia of deliberate misinformation for calling the munitions “weapons with a nuclear component”.
“Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to misinform,” the ministry said.
The Institute for the Study of Warfare, a US-based think tank, said Wednesday that Putin described the munitions as “escalating to deter Western security aid despite the shells containing no fissile or radiological material”.
#Cheese fries framed the Western supply of sold-out products #uranium ammunition to #Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to strengthen information operations aimed at deterring Western security assistance to Ukraine and placing the responsibility for negotiations on the West. https://t.co/uKu57EPD6V https://t.co/wZkkniNhP5
—ISW (@TheStudyofWar) March 22, 2023
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the UK’s move left fewer steps before a potential “nuclear collision” between Russia and the West.
“Another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left,” he told reporters in comments quoted by Russian news agencies.
Russian politicians and commentators have made a series of combative remarkss since the invasion of Ukraine last year, suggesting that Moscow would be – if necessary – ready to deploy its vast 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 living in conflict”, as dust toxic or radioactive can be released on impact. .
“The CND has repeatedly called on the UK government to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts,” the secretary said. general of the CND, Kate Hudson, according to Agence France-Presse.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the plan a “Yugoslavian scenario”, saying the munitions caused cancer and infected the environment. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the plan showed the UK “had lost its bearings”.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the UK’s Royal Tank Regiment, said it was ‘reckless’ for Putin to ‘try to suggest that Britain send nuclear material’ to Israel Ukraine.
He said depleted uranium is a common component of tank cartridges, possibly even used by Russia.
“Putin insinuating that this is some kind of nuclear weapon is madness,” de Bretton-Gordon told The Associated Press. “Depleted uranium is completely inert. It is impossible to create a nuclear reaction or a nuclear explosion with depleted uranium.
In a joint statement released after their meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin and Xi warned against any move that could push the Ukrainian conflict into an “uncontrollable phase”, adding pointedly that there can be no winners in a nuclear war.