A senior defense official from Washington has stated that the controversial cluster munitions supplied by the United States are proving to be ‘effective’ in Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion. On Thursday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby informed reporters that the Ukrainians had provided positive feedback regarding using these munitions. Kirby emphasized that the cluster bombs are being used appropriately and effectively by Ukrainian forces.
Kirby asserted that they were impacting Russian defensive formations and the maneuvering of their forces. According to an anonymous Ukrainian source cited in the Washington Post, Ukraine’s forces are employing cluster munitions against well-fortified Russian positions, which had previously slowed down their summer offensive.
A senior Washington defense official stated that the controversial cluster munitions provided by the US are proving “effective” in Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion. Basically, cluster bombs disperse numerous small explosive devices.#Ukraine #ClusterMunitions pic.twitter.com/5ZzqsQRJ0e
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) July 21, 2023
Ukrainian Strategy Against Russian Trenches
According to a report by the Washington Post, the eastern and southern front-line positions in Ukraine, which have been effective in slowing down Ukraine’s counteroffensive, are heavily mined with antitank and antipersonnel mines along with trip wires, spanning between 4.8 kilometers to sixteen kilometers deep (three to ten miles). To tackle these fortified Russian trenches, Ukrainian military officials have employed cluster munitions to “break up” their defenses, as stated in the newspaper.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a think tank based in Washington, DC, revealed that Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolvak emphasized the challenging nature of the counteroffensive. Still, it aims to prevent Russian forces from regaining control over the battlefield.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) July 21, 2023
The U.S. Sent Cluster Bombs to Ukraine Despite Humanitarian Considerations
Earlier this month, the United States sent cluster munitions to Ukraine, despite widespread concerns about using weapons banned by over a hundred countries—a weapons package containing cluster munitions fired from a 155-millimeter. However, cannon was included in the package.
The New York Times they were reported on the matter, citing sources familiar with the discussions, who revealed that top national security officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, recommended sending the weapons despite their own reservations.
The Ongoing Cluster Munitions Debate
Cluster bombs pose significant risks to civilians as they disperse numerous similar bomblets over a wide area, often leading to unexploded ordnance hazards even after the conflict ends. While more than 120 countries, including some of Ukraine’s and the U.S.’s key allies like the United Kingdom and France, have signed the 2008 United Nations. Convention on cluster munitions to prohibit their use, Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S. are not signatories to the treaty. However, a 2009 U.S. law prohibits the export of cluster munitions with a bomblet failure rate exceeding one percent, encompassing nearly the entire U.S. military inventory. Nonetheless, President Biden retains the authority to override such prohibitions in cases considered to be in the interest of U.S. national security.
Calls for Cluster Weapon Restocking Amid Humanitarian Concerns
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently condemned Russian and Ukrainian forces for using cluster munitions in the ongoing battle. The rights group accused Moscow of extensively employing cluster munitions, resulting in several civilian deaths and severe injuries. In contrast, HRW reported that Ukrainian cluster munition rocket attacks on the then-Russian-occupied city of Izyum in 2022 resulted in at least eight civilians dying, leaving 15 others wounded.
Ukraine refuted the claim, stating that it didn’t use cluster munitions in or around the city during that time. According to Mary Wareham, HRW’s acting arms director, both sides’ cluster munitions threaten civilian lives and will continue to be hazardous for years. She urged both parties to cease their use and refrain from acquiring more of these indiscriminate weapons.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials have been advocating for acquiring new stocks of cluster weapons despite the humanitarian concerns raised by HRW. They argue that such weapons are essential for breaking through the Russian trenches hindering Kyiv’s counteroffensive efforts. Additionally, Ukraine faces a shortage of conventional artillery shells, emphasizing the perceived necessity for cluster weapons to bolster its military capabilities.
Cluster Munitions and Military Aid for Ukraine
According to a U.S. official who spoke with the Times, the current state of the battlefield has led to the perceived necessity of cluster weapons, deeming them “100% necessary.” However, despite the U.S. military’s belief that cluster munitions would benefit Ukraine, they have not yet been approved for Kyiv due to congressional restrictions and concerns expressed by allies.
The anticipated aid package, valued at up to $800 million, will encompass a range of munitions, including those for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Stryker armored personnel carriers, and Bradley fighting vehicles. This aid package will mark Ukraine’s 42nd instance of assistance since Russia initiated its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Escalating Tensions Over Cluster Munitions
After the United States confirmed its supply of banned weapons to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his forces would also use cluster munitions, despite indications that the Kremlin may have already deployed them in its ongoing war against Ukraine. In response, Ukraine has vowed to utilize the cluster bombs solely to dislodge concentrations of Russian enemy soldiers. However, both sides have accused each other of employing cluster bombs in the conflict. The situation is escalating tensions further in the region.