A Nuclear Munition Scare In The Ukraine Conflict

On March 19th, 2023 Britain confirmed it was supplying Ukraine with ammunition which contained depleted uranium. One of the primary reasons this metal is used in weapons is because it is very dense, allowing it to penetrate tanks and armor more easily. The following day, Putin condemned British plans to send such ammunition to Ukraine, saying Moscow would be forced to respond accordingly as such weapons had a ‘nuclear component.’ On March 22nd, Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressed that there was no nuclear escalation in the Ukraine conflict after Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Britain for supplying depleted uranium tank munitions to Ukrainian forces.

At the launch of Britain’s international technology strategy, Cleverly stated, “It’s worth making sure everyone understands that just because the word uranium is in the title of depleted uranium munitions, they are not nuclear munitions, they are purely conventional munitions.” After addressing the accusations of nuclear munitions, he expressed that Britain’s aid is, “purely about helping Ukraine defend itself.” Cleverly continued, “There is no nuclear escalation. The only country in the world that is talking about nuclear issues is Russia.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that Britain was “taking this escalation to a new and very serious stage,” while Russia’s mission in Geneva accused London of prolonging the conflict and leaving “no chance for a political and diplomatic settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally to Putin, added to the dialogue, claiming that Russia would retaliate against the British decision by providing Belarus with munition containing ‘real uranium.’ 

Though many of the actors involved in the conflict claim a desire to de-escalate the conflict and move towards a peaceful settlement, their actions certainly do not reflect such sentiments. Moreover, though Britain is providing aid to Ukraine, the aid is in a form that enables further violence. If ammunition continues to be supplied in this fashion it seems as though potential for peacebuilding efforts will continue to fade from the perspective of feasible possibilities. Countries should continue to advocate for peaceful resolutions and refrain from remaining neutral or enabling violence of any party. 

Britain has used depleted uranium in its armor piercing shells for decades and does not consider those rounds as having a nuclear capability. Additionally, Russia is known to also have ammunition containing depleted uranium. Though depleted uranium is a particular health risk around impact sites, where dust can get into people’s lungs and vital organs, they are not considered unconventional weaponry on the international stage.

As the Russian regime persists in escalating the conflict in Ukraine, efforts to expand artillery bode well neither for Ukraine nor for Russia. Implications of the conflict, future peace talks, and expansion of diplomatic relations continue to fade from perspective as violence is enabled on each side. Countries and representatives must recommend and enable peaceful resolutions to this conflict above all else.