Russia has a stockpile of cluster munitions and will consider using them against Ukraine “if they are used against us”, President Vladimir Putin has said.
Putin’s comments come just days after Ukraine received a shipment of US-made cluster munitions, although a senior Ukrainian military official told CNN they had yet to be used. .
“Russia has a sufficient supply of various types of cluster munitions,” the Russian leader said in an interview with a pro-Kremlin journalist.
“If used against us, we reserve the right to mirror the actions.”
Washington’s decision to send cluster bombs to kyiv has been controversial and criticized by human rights groups.
The weapons are particularly dangerous to civilians and non-combatants when fired near populated areas, as they scatter explosive material, known as “bombettes”, over large areas. Those that do not detonate on impact can detonate years later, posing a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines.
The danger posed by cluster munitions has prompted more than 100 countries – including the UK, France and Germany – to sign a treaty banning their use.
Ukrainian general: the arrival of cluster munitions “can radically change the battlefield”
US President Joe Biden told CNN that deciding whether or not to send cluster munitions to Ukraine was “very difficult”, but he chose to do so because Kiev needs more munitions to continue its fight aimed at pushing Russian troops out of Ukrainian territory.
A senior US Department of Defense official said kyiv had given “written assurances” that it would not use cluster munitions in urban areas.
In his interview, Putin said the Biden administration had labeled the use of cluster munitions a war crime and that he agreed with that assessment.
It’s unclear which comments Putin was referring to, but former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said early in the conflict last year that reports of Russia’s use of cluster bombs, if confirmed, would constitute a war crime.
Putin also claimed that Russia has not yet used cluster munitions, despite evidence to the contrary.
In March, the United Nations said it had compiled credible reports that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times. A CNN investigation last year found the Kremlin fired 11 cluster rockets at Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, during the early days of the war.