The US has announced it will send depleted uranium tank shells to Ukraine as part of more than one billion dollars (£800 million) in military and humanitarian aid.
The controversial shells are made of depleted uranium – naturally occurring uranium stripped of much of its radioactive material.
The announcement of a new security package for Ukraine came during top US diplomat Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv.
Russia condemned the move to equip US Abrams tanks with shells strong enough to pierce conventional tank armor.
The Russian embassy in Washington denounced the decision as “an indicator of inhumanity”, adding that the US was “deluding itself by refusing to accept the failure of the Ukrainian military’s so-called counter-offensive”.
“Clearly, with its idea of inflicting a ‘strategic defeat’, Washington is prepared to fight not only to the last Ukrainian but also to do away with entire generations,” the embassy said.
“The US is deliberately transferring weapons with indiscriminate effects,” the embassy added.
“It is fully aware of the consequences: explosions of such munitions result in the formation of a moving radioactive cloud. Small particles of uranium settle in the respiratory tract, lungs, esophagus, accumulate in kidneys and liver, cause cancer and lead to the inhibition of the whole organism’s functions.”
Depleted uranium shells would enhance Ukraine’s capabilities
The 120mm uranium tank rounds – included in $175 million of US military equipment for Ukraine – are for M1 Abrams tanks due to be delivered to Ukraine later this year.
Uranium is a very dense metal, so depleted uranium can be used to reinforce the armor-plating on tanks. It can also be put on the tips of bullets, mortar rounds and tank shells, making them strong enough to penetrate conventional tank armor.
These types of shells sharpen on impact, which further increases their ability to bore through armor, and they ignite after contact.
The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has found no significant poisoning is caused by exposure to depleted uranium but another UN body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says there could be a risk of radiation to individuals who handle fragments of depleted uranium rounds.
This is a U-turn from March, when a spokesman for the Pentagon said the US would not be sending any depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine. The UK, however, has sent them.
The US will also provide anti-armor systems, tactical air navigation systems and additional ammunition for Himars missiles.
“This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum,” Blinken said.
Since June, Ukraine’s territorial gains in the counter-offensive have been very small, but Ukrainian generals claim they have breached Russia’s formidable first line of defenses in the south.
On Wednesday, 17 people, including a child, were killed in an attack on the city of Kostyantynivka, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Moscow for the attack but Russia is yet to comment.