Putin Warns West Not to Send Armor-Piercing Tank Ammunition to Ukraine, Says ‘Russia Will Respond’

Putin Warns West Not to Send Armor-Piercing Tank Ammunition to Ukraine, Says ‘Russia Will Respond’
Russian President Vladimir Putin participates in an annual extended meeting of the Board of the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow on March 20, 2023. (Alexey Nikolsky/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cautioned against the UK supplying Ukraine with armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU) tank ammunition.

In a press conference with Chinese regime leader Xi Jinping on March 21, Putin said that Moscow would be forced “to respond accordingly” if the UK went ahead and provided Ukraine with the ammunition.

Putin’s remarks came the day after the UK’s Minister of State for Defense, Annabel Goldie, announced that some ammunition for the Challenger 2 battle tanks, which are being sent to Ukraine, are equipped with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

Goldie referred to the ammunition as “highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles.”

The Russian president, however, warned against expanding the west’s operations in support of Ukraine.

“The United Kingdom … announced not only the supply of tanks to Ukraine, but also shells with depleted uranium,” Putin told reporters at a press conference after the summit.

“It seems that the West really decided to fight with Russia to the last Ukrainian—no longer in words, but in deeds. But in this regard, I would like to note that if all this happens, then Russia will have to respond accordingly. I mean that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.”

Putin did not elaborate further on his remarks.

The Russian Embassy in London said in a statement that the UK’s decision would serve to further aggravate the situation and weaken prospects of a mutually acceptable negotiated solution.

“Clearly the British have made the choice towards inflicting maximum damage and destruction to the population of the frontline regions,” the statement read. “The assurances made by the UK leadership on its alleged readiness to assist in Ukraine’s ‘post-conflict rehabilitation’ are particularly cynical in this regard.”

Following Putin’s statement, the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) dismissed Russian claims of the use of weapons “with a nuclear component.” The MoD accused Russia of spreading deliberate disinformation, saying that armor-piercing shells have been used as standard equipment for decades.

Since the start of the conflict with Ukraine in February last year, a number of Russian politicians and spokespersons have hinted at Russia’s being prepared to use its nuclear capability if the West continued to provide weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Britain’s decision is drawing ever closer to a potential nuclear showdown between the nations.

“Naturally, Russia has something to answer this with,” Shoigu responded when asked about the ammunition, according to Reuters.

Depleted Uranium Effects Disputed

Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear fuel and weapons production. It is often used in weapon systems because of its high density, making it a preferred component for penetrating steel.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova previously referred to the plan as the “Yugoslavia scenario,” alluding to the ammunition’s alleged carcinogenic effects as well as its impact on the environment.

The United Nations Environment Program has deemed ammunition of this kind to be chemically and radiologically toxic, as the dust created upon impact can be absorbed by the lungs and other vital organs. However, the UNEP also states that “When DU penetrators hit a target’s surface target or the ground, only a small percentage of the penetrator’s mass will transform to DU dust.”

Britain’s move was also condemned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The anti-nuclear organization said the move was an “additional environmental and health disaster for those living through the conflict.”

“CND has repeatedly called for the UK government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts,” said CND’s general secretary, Kate Hudson.

‘Russian Saber Rattling’

A former commander of the UK’s Royal Tank Regiment, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, decried Putin’s comments as “ridiculous nuclear saber rattling,” adding that depleted uranium is a common component in tank ammunition—and is even used by Russia.

“Putin’s claims that British tank ammunition is a nuclear weapon is rubbish & Russian tanks use DU rounds—but nuclear escalation is his key strategy and [has] not worked yet,” he wrote on Twitter.

Both Putin and Xi made a joint closing statement at the end of their meeting in which they warned against steps that could lead to further escalation in the Ukraine conflict, adding that there could be no winners in a nuclear war.

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