Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of uranium enrichment, which is used to produce nuclear fuel and weapons. DU has less radioactivity than natural uranium, but it is still a toxic and heavy metal that can cause health and environmental problems. DU is used in military applications because it is very dense and hard, and can easily penetrate armor plating and ignite on impact.
However, the use of DU shells has been criticized by many groups and countries, who argue that they pose a serious risk to civilians and the environment. They claim that DU shells create radioactive dust that can be inhaled or ingested, causing cancers, birth defects, and other diseases. They also say that DU shells contaminate the soil and water, and have long-term effects on wildlife and agriculture.
The US and some of its allies, such as the UK, have used DU shells in several conflicts, such as the Gulf War, the Balkans War, and the Iraq War. They maintain that DU shells are not banned by international law, and that they are safe and effective weapons. They also say that there is no conclusive evidence that DU shells cause harm to humans or the environment.
Why is the US sending DU shells to Ukraine now?
The US announced on Wednesday that it was sending DU shells to Ukraine as part of a new $1 billion assistance package to Kyiv, which includes military and humanitarian aid. The announcement came during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and expressed US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The US said that the DU shells were for the US-made Abrams tanks that Ukraine is expected to receive later this year. The US also said that it would provide other weapons and equipment to Ukraine, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, tactical air navigation systems, and additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
The US decision to send DU shells to Ukraine is seen as a response to the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which have been at odds since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. In recent months, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border, raising fears of a possible invasion or provocation. Russia has also accused Ukraine of violating the 2015 Minsk agreements, which aimed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The US and its allies have expressed their solidarity with Ukraine and urged Russia to de-escalate the situation. They have also imposed sanctions on Russia and provided diplomatic and economic support to Ukraine. The US has said that it is committed to helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression, and that it will not allow Moscow to change the borders of Europe by force.
How has Russia reacted to the US move?
Russia has denounced the US plan to send DU shells to Ukraine, calling it “inhuman” and “provocative”. The Russian embassy in Washington said on Wednesday that the US was “deliberately transferring weapons with indiscriminate effects” and that it was “prepared to fight not only to the last Ukrainian but also to do away with entire generations”.
The embassy also said that the US was “deluding itself by refusing to accept the failure of the Ukrainian military’s so-called counter-offensive”, which has been stalled by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. The embassy claimed that the use of DU shells would result in “the formation of a moving radioactive cloud” that would cause cancer and other diseases.
Russia has also accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs and violating its sovereignty by supporting Ukraine. Russia has said that it has legitimate security interests in its neighboring regions, and that it is acting in self-defense against NATO’s expansion and encirclement. Russia has also warned that any further escalation could lead to a full-scale war in Europe.