Putin warns against UK plans to send ammunition with depleted uranium

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop a tank on the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Mar 22, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

The United States announced on Tuesday that it will speed up delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine, while the United Kingdom will send tanks and depleted uranium shells, a move that Russian President Vladimir Putin said will elicit a response.

"The UK announced not only the supply of tanks to Ukraine, but also depleted uranium shells. But I would like to note that if all this happens, Russia will have to react accordingly," Putin said in Moscow.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the UK's Heritage Party wrote: "We call on the UK government to cease escalation of the Ukraine conflict and to desist from sending Challenger tanks and depleted uranium shells to Ukraine."

Journalist Dahr Jamail, in an article for Al Jazeera, wrote: "Contamination from Depleted Uranium, or DU, munitions and other military-related pollution is suspected of causing a sharp (rise) in congenital birth defects, cancer cases, and other illnesses throughout much of Iraq.

"Many prominent doctors and scientists contend that DU contamination is also connected to the recent emergence of diseases that were not previously seen in Iraq, such as new illnesses in the kidney, lungs, and liver, as well as total immune system collapse," Jamail wrote.

Also, in a letter to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, four Republican lawmakers requested that cluster munitions, a controversial weapon banned in 110 countries, be sent to Ukraine.

The Biden administration shouldn't hesitate to send cluster munitions because of "vague concerns about the reaction of allies and partners and unfounded fears of 'escalation'," US senators James Risch of Idaho and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and representatives Michael McCaul of Texas and Mike Rogers of Alabama wrote in their letter.

"We remain deeply disappointed in your administration's reluctance to provide Ukraine with the right type and amount of long-range fires and maneuver capability to create and exploit operational breakthroughs against the Russians," they wrote.

Speeding up delivery

The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton machines to the war zone by the fall, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks.

"This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later," said Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary.

The Biden administration announced in January that it would send the tanks to Ukraine — after saying for months that they were too complicated and too difficult to maintain and repair.

The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.

Ryder, speaking at a Pentagon news conference, said the tanks will be refurbished and refitted to make them combat-ready for Ukraine.

In a video on Twitter, anti-war journalist Richard Medhust, who has nearly 233,000 followers on Twitter, said: "These suits driving around in their Bentleys, they don't represent us. It's up to us now to declare war on the war machine, war on the warmongers, war on the war profiteers, war on the war hawks."

Annabel Goldie, the British minister of state for defense, in a response to a question on the UK Parliament website, stated: "Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition, including armor piercing rounds, which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles."

According to antiwar.com, depleted uranium munitions are radioactive and linked to cancer and birth defects, particularly in Iraq, where US forces used them during the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. Birth defects are still common in Fallujah, Iraq, the website reported.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu warned that sending Ukraine depleted uranium rounds brings the world closer to a "nuclear collision" between Russia and the West.

"Naturally, Russia has something to answer this with," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.