UK to set 'bad precedent' if depleted uranium ammunition provided to Ukraine
Published: Mar 22, 2023 11:02 PM Updated: Mar 22, 2023 11:31 PM
Thousands of people gather during a demonstration at Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate, calling for peace negotiations with Russia in the Ukraine war on February 25, 2023 in Germany. Photo: VCG

Thousands of people gather during a demonstration at Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate, calling for peace negotiations with Russia in the Ukraine war on February 25, 2023 in Germany. Photo: VCG

If the UK sends controversial shells containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, it will set a bad precedent for the conflict, which could also mean an escalation in weapon supplies, Chinese experts said, warning of long-term harmful effects on the environment and people's health. This move shows that the West does not care about either Ukrainians or Russians as they use "the blood of Ukrainians to weaken Russia by all means," experts said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow would be "forced to respond" if the UK government is supplying Ukraine with armor-piercing tank shells containing depleted uranium following a written response by a UK defense minister who was asked whether any of ammunition currently being supplied to Ukraine contains depleted uranium, according to media reports. 

The Ministry of Defense of the UK said that such material is standard for rounds and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Those armor-piercing shells containing such material for use with its Challenger 2 battle tanks have a low risk of radiation, media reports said. 

In history, NATO led by the US has used depleted uranium munitions many times, which caused not only a long-term impact on the environment but also a long-term harm to human body, and the uranium powder released by it caused serious pollution to the environment, Chinese experts said. 

A resolution adopted by the UN in December 2022 takes into account the potential harmful effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium on human health and the environment, and noted that further research should be done to assess the health risks and environmental impact of the use of arms and ammunitions containing depleted uranium in conflict situations. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying in media reports that the British decision left fewer and fewer steps before a potential "nuclear collision" between Russia and the West. He also mentioned that NATO had already used such munitions in Kosovo and Serbia, where they massively, without any sanctions… bombarded peaceful cities and destroyed bridges.

The UK's move set a very bad precedent as depleted uranium munitions have been resisted by many countries given its harm not only to soldiers but also to civilians nearby, making post-war reconstruction much more difficult, Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"It also means Western supplies to Ukraine being further escalated," he said, noting that Russia will surely react resolutely to such escalation. 

On the 23rd anniversary of the end of NATO's 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in June 2022, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the US and NATO to reflect on their war crimes and give a reasonable explanation and compensation to the victims of depleted uranium munitions. Some 3,000 victims of depleted uranium munitions entrusted an international team of lawyers to file a lawsuit against NATO for the bad impact of the 15-ton depleted uranium munitions dropped by NATO. 

"The impact of the depleted uranium munitions is long term not only for Russian and Ukrainian soldiers but also for local residents. Countries like Iraq and Serbia are still under the impact of such munitions used by the US-led West," Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Increasing weapons supplies to Ukraine is seen as adding fuel to the fire that will only exacerbate tensions. On the Ukraine crisis, China emphasized on multiple occasions that nuclear weapons cannot be used and nuclear wars cannot be fought, and all parties should jointly oppose the use or threat to use nuclear weapons, preventing nuclear proliferation and avoiding a nuclear crisis.  

Providing depleted uranium munitions also means that the UK violates the non-proliferation principle, and Russia will not sit idly by if London breaks the bottom-line. As a major nuclear power, we might collectively oppose such a move as permanent members of the UN Security Council, Cui noted. 

"The UK clearly understands the harmful impact of the depleted uranium munitions, which also shows that the country does not care how harmful they would be to either Ukrainians or Russians, or they just want to use the blood of Ukrainians to weaken Russia by all means," the expert said.