When Britain announced it would supply Ukraine with depleted uranium rounds designed to penetrate tank armor, Russia decried the move as escalation. U.S. officials has had a simple response: If you don’t like it, leave Ukraine.
“If the Russians are very concerned about their tanks staying fully operational, they can just take them across the border back into Russia,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in a March news briefing, following Britain’s move.
On Wednesday, almost six months later, the United States announced it would follow Britain in supplying Ukraine with 120mm tank ammo made of depleted uranium, setting off another flurry of criticism from Russian officials who said the rounds could cause cancer and other illnesses.
Depleted uranium has been used in both antitank rounds and armor for years, particularly in the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Advocates against the substances use in conflicts have long argued that it can cause ecological damage and long-lasting health effects. In a statement, the International Coalition To Ban Uranium Weapons condemned the move to send the weapons to Ukraine, calling it “self-destructive and deceptive.”
“Like in the case of cluster munitions, the delivery of DU munitions is counter-productive and careless,” the statement read. “It adds to the war-related environmental burden of Ukraine, damaging its legal integrity as victim of aggression and illegal attacks.”
Although it is a byproduct of the process that creates enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear weapons, depleted uranium is ought not for its radioactivity, but its extraordinary density, which makes it useful in armor and ammunition. Russian President Vladimir Putin nonetheless has argued that their use could constitute nuclear escalation.