Skip to main content
  • Share to or

‘Another step up the ladder’ Putin accuses ‘the collective West’ of ‘starting to use weapons with nuclear components.’ What he’s talking about is depleted uranium.

Source: Meduza
Alexey Maishev / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

In a joint press-conference with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin said that British military aid to Ukraine is forcing Moscow to respond to the “collective West’s” determination “to continue its war with Russia to the last Ukrainian.”

Putin’s remark came in response to a disclosure by the British government on Monday about planned weapons deliveries to Ukraine.

British Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie acknowledged that Great Britain would be providing Ukraine with “ammunition including armor piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium.” “Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles,” said Goldie, in response to a question from a crossbench MP.

Putin framed the planned deliveries as another alleged instance of Western countries twisting Russia’s arm. “If all of this does take place, Russia will be forced to react, in view of the fact that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with nuclear components,” said the Russian president.

The fact is that depleted uranium ammunitions (as well as tanks with DU-containing armor) have nothing to do with nuclear weapons, since uranium in this form isn’t capable of a chain reaction. Politics is another matter though, as evidenced by the statements that followed from Russian officials.

Referring to Russian military doctrine’s conceptual “escalation ladder,” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu noted that “another step up the ladder has been taken, with fewer and fewer steps remaining.” “We better think carefully before taking each subsequent step,” said the minister, as quoted by Interfax.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued his own comment on Britain’s plans, saying that Western countries are prepared not just to take risks, but even to “violate international humanitarian norms as it happened in 1999 in Yugoslavia.” Lavrov added that “nothing can surprise him,” since Western countries “have already lost their bearings in terms of their actions and how these actions undermine strategic stability around the world.”

Since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Putin and his government have often threatened the West with Russia’s nuclear arsenal. On February 21, Putin announced Russia’s suspension of compliance with the New START Treaty — the only nuclear arms control treaty then in effect between the U.S. and Russia.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of nuclear weapons production and reactor operations. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), depleted uranium is 60 percent less radioactive than uranium found in nature. Its high density makes it suitable for use as ballast in ships and aircraft. It’s also been used in manufacturing armor-piercing ammunition and in strengthening the armor on tanks and armored vehicles.

Forecasting Putin’s nuclear behavior

Russia's dangerous game How likely is Putin to cross the nuclear red line?

Forecasting Putin’s nuclear behavior

Russia's dangerous game How likely is Putin to cross the nuclear red line?

Translated by Anna Razumnaya

  • Share to or