Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia will “respond accordingly” if Britain sends depleted uranium tank ammunition to the government in Kyiv.
The Russian leader claimed the UK was supplying Ukraine with “weapons with a nuclear component”, pointing to British plans to the send the Ukrainians depleted uranium shells along with a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
Depleted uranium is the material left after most of the highly radioactive form of uranium is removed from the natural uranium ore.
The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) dismissed Putin's warning, saying the armour-piercing shells had been standard equipment for decades and were “nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities”.
“It looks like the West indeed intends to fight Russia until the last Ukrainian,” Putin said during a news conference in Moscow with China’s President Xi Jinping.
“If that happens, Russia will respond accordingly, given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.”
He did not elaborate on what the response might be, although the Russian leader has previously made ominous threats towards the West.
In response, a MoD spokesman said: “Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition, including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium.
“Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.
“The British Army has used depleted uranium in its armour piercing shells for decades. It is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities.
“Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform.”
The spokesman added that independent research by scientists from groups such as the Royal Society had assessed that any impact to personal health and the environment from the use of depleted uranium munitions was “likely to be low”.
The comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday chaired a meeting of top defense and security officials, focusing on coordinating arms and ammunition supplies for the Ukrainian army as well as information security.
A day earlier, European Union countries endorsed a fast-track procedure aimed at providing Kyiv with sorely needed artillery shells to repel Russia’s invasion forces.
Ukraine’s presidential office reported that at least three civilians were killed and 10 others were injured by Russian shelling in the previous 24 hours.
It said that Russia fired on the southern city of Kherson and its suburbs more than 60 times over that period, killing one person and injuring seven others across the Kherson province. Fierce battles continued in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is straining to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the face of dogged Ukrainian resistance.
As fighting across Ukraine raged on, Putin warmly welcomed Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday, starting a three-day visit the two major powers described as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.”
China is looking to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what they both see as US domination of global affairs.
Xi Jinping's invitation to China followed the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week issuing an arrest warrant for the Russian president over war crimes in connection with his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.
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