Russia has a stockpile of cluster munitions and will consider using them against Ukraine “if they are used against us,” President Vladimir Putin said.
Putin’s comments come just days after Ukraine received a shipment of US-made cluster munitions, though a top Ukrainian military official told CNN they had not yet been used.
“Russia has sufficient supplies of various types of cluster munitions,” the Russian leader said during an interview with a pro-Kremlin journalist.
“If they are used against us, we reserve the right to mirror actions.”
Washington’s decision to send cluster bombs to Kiev was controversial and criticized by human rights groups.
The weapons are particularly dangerous to civilians and non-combatants when fired near populated areas because they disperse explosive material, so-called “bombs”, over large areas. Those that fail to explode on impact can explode years later, posing a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines.
The threat of cluster weapons has prompted more than 100 countries – including the United Kingdom, France and Germany – to sign a treaty banning their use.
US President Joe Biden told CNN the decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine was “very difficult,” but he chose it because Kiev needs more munitions to continue its fight to drive Russian troops out of Ukrainian territory.
A top US Defense Department official said Kiev has “assured in writing” that it will not use the cluster munitions in urban areas.
In his interview, Putin said that the Biden administration had called the use of cluster munitions a war crime and that he agreed with that assessment.
It’s not clear exactly what comments Putin was referring to, but former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the beginning of the conflict last year that reports of Russia’s use of cluster bombs, if confirmed, would constitute a war crime.
Putin also claimed that Russia has not yet used cluster munitions, despite evidence to the contrary.
In March, the United Nations said it had gathered credible reports that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times. A CNN investigation last year found that the Kremlin fired 11 cluster missiles at Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, during the opening days of the war.