Controversial cluster munitions pledged to Kyiv by the US last week are already in Ukraine and can “radically change” the situation on the battlefield, senior military officials from the two countries have said.
President Joe Biden last week said the “very difficult” decision to send the weapons had been made in part because Ukraine needed extra ammunition to refill its depleted stocks for its ongoing summer offensive.
“We just got them, we haven’t used them yet, but they can radically change (the battlefield),” Ukrainian army commander Oleksandr Tarnavsky told US broadcaster CNN.
"The enemy also understands that with getting this ammunition, we will have an advantage,” Tarnavsky said, adding that Ukrainian forces would not deploy the weapon in heavily populated areas over concerns over the long-term risk posed to civilians by bomblets that fail to explode.
US Lieutenant General Douglas Sims later confirmed the news, saying the “cluster munitions are in Ukraine.”
Asked about the slower-than-expected pace of advance in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, he told journalists that “this is hard warfare, it’s in really tough terrain, it’s under fire.”
“When you consider all that, it’s pretty remarkable.”
On Ukraine’s eastern front, soldiers welcomed last week’s decision to send cluster munitions to Kyiv that will give them an “advantage on the battlefield.”
Yuriy, the captain of the crew of an Italian M109L howitzer, pointed out to AFP that Russia itself uses the weapons, which are banned in many parts of the world.
“I have already been under cluster munitions bombing several times,” said the commander, who operates under the call sign “Aramis” and sports a goatee.
“The Russians do not hold back,” he said, as the six-man crew waited for orders to take up a new firing position under the cover of some trees not far from the frontline.
“When a cluster munitions shell is flying, you feel it immediately. It opens in the air and the little grenades fly and you do not know where to hide.
“Light armored vehicles and personnel are put out of action. It’s very effective,” said the 23-year-old officer from Ukraine’s 37th marine brigade.
The controversial weapons are banned by numerous countries – notably in Europe – that are signatories to a 2008 Oslo Convention, to which neither Russia, the United States nor Ukraine are parties.
The Kremlin has said it will take “countermeasures” if the weapon is deployed by Ukraine against its troops.
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