Washington(CNN): The Biden administration and members of Congress have recently come under pressure from Ukrainian authorities and lawmakers to provide the Ukrainian military access to cluster munitions warheads, which are still used to devastating effect within Ukraine despite being outlawed by more than 100 nations.
One of the most contentious requests the Ukrainians have made to the US since the war started in February is for cluster munitions, which many US and Ukrainian officials revealed to CNN.
According to CNN, a previously unreported fact, senior Biden administration officials have been handling this request for months without explicitly rejecting it.
Similar to landmines, cluster munitions are imprecise by design and scatter “bomblets” over wide areas, some of which may not explode upon impact, posing a long-term risk to anyone who comes into contact with them. They also cause “nasty, gory fragmentation” to anyone who is struck by them due to the numerous submunitions that all explode simultaneously over a wide area, according to Mark Hiznay, a weapons specialist and associate director for Human Rights Watch’s arms project.
High-ranking US officials have openly declared their intention to provide the Ukrainians with all the assistance necessary to give them the upper hand at the bargaining table with Russia, should that situation arise. However, the supply of western military hardware is finite, and as the number of available warheads decreases, the Ukrainians have made it clear to the US that it may make use of the cluster munitions that are currently sitting in storage.
Cluster munitions could help Ukraine with two big problems: a method to close Russia’s numerical advantage in artillery and the requirement for more ammo for the artillery and rocket systems the US and others have delivered.
If inventories start to get dangerously low, the Biden administration hasn’t ruled out using it as a last resort. However, according to insiders, the legislation Congress passed restricting the US’s capacity to transmit cluster munitions means that the plan has not yet garnered any attention.
The possibility that these limits may apply to ammunition with more than 1% unexploded ordnance rate increases the likelihood that such ammunition could endanger civilians. The ban might be overruled by President Joe Biden, but the administration has told the Ukrainians that it is unlikely to happen very soon.
According to a congressional staffer, “the ability of Ukraine to make gains in current and prospective phases of combat is in no way contingent on or tied to their getting these armaments.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, both the Ukrainians and the Russians have used cluster bombs, but Human Rights Watch research shows that the Russians have used them more frequently and against civilian targets like parks, clinics, and a cultural center. The Russians also used the munitions to devastating effect on civilians in Syria.
In dozens of Ukrainian districts, including Kharkiv, Russia’s employment of the weapons, notably its 300mm Smerch cluster rockets that can launch 72 submunitions across an area the size of a football pitch, has been documented, according to CNN.
A Ukrainian official promptly answered when asked about the unfavorable perception of employing cluster munitions that they would only be reacting in kind.
Using cluster munitions against us is nothing new, a Russian official told CNN. “Collateral harm is the [US] concern. They won’t be used against the Russian people; instead, we’ll use them against the Russian military.”
CNN contacted the Defense Ministry and the Office of the President of Ukraine separately. CNN was sent to the Defense Ministry by the President’s Office.
The Defense Ministry told CNN that it would rather wait until a deal with a supplier is achieved before making any public announcements about reports involving demands for specific weapons systems or ammunition.
The US has substantial stockpiles of the weapons despite not being a signatory to the 2010 ban known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions. However, administration officials feel that there are too many drawbacks to using cluster munitions, the main of which is the risk they represent to civilians, in addition to the congressional restrictions, to justify sending them unless absolutely required. Additionally, the US does not currently consider the munitions to be crucial to Ukraine’s military success.
However, according to Ukrainian officials, the Russians frequently and mostly use cluster munitions in civilian areas. According to various people acquainted with the lobbying campaign, the Ukrainians have approached the State Department, Pentagon, and Congress “many times” to lobby for the bombs, also known as dual-purpose upgraded conventional munitions.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a politician from Ukraine, is one of the representatives who has been pressuring the US to give weapons. He told CNN that it was crucial because it would fundamentally alter the circumstances on the battlefield. “Ukraine will end this war much more quickly with these, which is good for everyone.”
Goncharenko continued, “Russia is heavily employing the archaic, most barbarous styles of cluster munitions against Ukraine. “I was personally a victim of this. My area was shelled. Thus, we are entirely within our rights to utilize it against them.”
According to the first Ukrainian official and a second source familiar with the requests, the Ukrainians want cluster munitions compatible with both the 155 mm howitzers and the US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers. They have argued that the munitions would enable Ukrainian troops to effectively attack larger, more dispersed targets like groups of Russian soldiers and vehicles.
As a result of the possible risk to noncombatants, neither the US nor Ukraine have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which forbids the use, manufacture, and storage of these cluster bombs. But according to a 2017 statement from Central Command, the US started phasing them out in 2016 because they “included hundreds of smaller ‘cluster bomb’ explosives that were often left unexploded across the battlefield, posing a hazard to civilians.”
The M30A1 alternate warhead was used by the US in place of dual-purpose enhanced conventional munitions, or DPICMs. 180,000 tiny tungsten steel shards are part of the M30A1’s construction, and they disperse upon contact so that no unexploded ordnance is left on the ground. However, according to Ukrainian officials, the DPICMs the US currently has in storage could significantly aid the Ukrainian military on the battlefield—more so than the M30A1.
The Ukrainian official told CNN that Ukraine has been requesting the weapons “for many months,” adding that they are “more effective when you have a concentration of Russian forces.”
The official stated, “Russians use all of these cluster munitions, they don’t care.” “We’re going to battle Russian troops, but Russians are using cluster munitions against our civilians.”
This report was contributed to by Victoria Butenko and Oren Liebermann of CNN.
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