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Vladimir Putin has threatened to unleash his arsenal of cluster bombs on Ukraine in retaliation for any attempt by Kyiv to use the same munitions against Russian troops in its counteroffensive.
The White House announced a new US$800 (£611m) million package of military aid for Ukraine in the first week of July.
The US has now spent a total of US$23.5 billion (£17.9bn) on weapons for Kyiv’s army, as it continues its attempts to retake territory from the Russian occupiers.
Included in this latest aid package are cluster bombs, or dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) as they are euphemistically called by the US military.
Cluster bombs work by scattering large numbers of tiny bomblets over a wide area, which are supposed to implode on impact.
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They could be a key weapon in helping Ukraine’s army to dislodge Russian troops from their heavily-fortified defensive lines, but are highly controversial.
Many of the bomblets can fail to explode, presenting a long lasting lethal danger to civilians, particularly children, once the fighting is over.
Human rights groups have described cluster munitions as “abhorrent” and even a war crime.
The Russian President has reacted with fury to the US’s decision to supply the munitions, which could be a game changer on the battlefield.
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In a state TV interview, he warned: “Of course, if they are used against us, we reserve the right to take reciprocal action.”
He added Russia had not yet used the weapons despite a “certain shortage of munitions at some point”.
However, Human Rights Watch has claimed the Russians have used cluster munitions since their invasion in February 2022. They said the munitions had already inflicted hundreds of civilian casualties and damaged homes, hospitals and schools.
The organisation also noted that the Ukrainian military had not denied using the weapons as well.
Russian cluster munitions reportedly have a “dud rate” of 40 per cent, meaning large numbers remain a hazard on the ground, whereas the average dud rate is believed to be close to 20 per cent.
The Pentagon estimates its own cluster bomblets have a dud rate of less than 3 per cent.
The US President, Joe Biden, said he had wrestled with the decision for months, but had decided that Ukraine was in urgent need of the weapons due to the rapid depletion of its stocks of conventional artillery shells.
Mr Biden added that it was a temporary measure to allow Kyiv the time to ramp up the production of its own artillery shells.
Military experts believe the cluster bombs could be particularly useful in helping Ukraine’s army to clear the extensive minefields the Russians have laid.
They suggest that by using cluster bombs to suppress enemy fire from the trenches, Ukrainian forces could gain precious time to help them clear their way through mines.
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