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Putin denies Russia’s use of cluster munitions in Ukraine despite well-documented evidence

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Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that Russia “reserves the right” to use cluster munitions in Ukraine, emphasizing that the Russian Armed Forces had not yet done so.

During the broadcast of “Moskva. Kreml'. Putin.” (“Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.”) on Russia-1 on July 26, Putin said:

“We possess a sufficient supply of various types of cluster munitions in Russia, various types. However, up until now, we have refrained from using them despite facing occasional ammunition shortages. But, of course, if they are used against us, we reserve the right to mirror such actions.”

The announcement of the United States' intention to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine was made by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser to the US president, on July 7. Sullivan emphasized that the Ukrainian authorities would provide written assurances regarding the cautious use of the weaponry – particularly artillery shells – with a focus on minimizing risks to their own population.

Putin's claim that Russia has not used cluster munitions are clearly false.

As early as February 25, 2022, just one day following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Human Rights Watch, an independent NGO monitoring human rights violations, documented an incident involving a Russian 9M79 ballistic missile launched from the Tochka-U system, which struck a hospital in the town of Vuhledar. The missile carried a warhead containing 9N123K cluster munitions, resulting in the deaths of four civilians and the injury of six others.

By February 28, independent investigative outlet Bellingcat had already identified multiple instances of Russia's use of cluster munitions.

Michelle Bachelet, the head of the UN Human Rights Council, declared in late March 2022 that confirmed reports indicated Russia had employed cluster munitions at least 24 times up until that point.

One of the most severe cases of cluster munition usage occurred on April 8, 2022, when a Tochka-U missile struck the Kramatorsk train station. This attack resulted in the tragic death of at least 58 civilians and caused injuries to approximately 100 more innocent bystanders.

The credibility of Putin's assertion regarding Russia's “sufficient supply of various types of cluster munitions” can also be called into question. The most recent documented instance of their use dates back to January 2023, when an Iskander missile carrying a cluster warhead targeted a Ukrainian S-300 missile system position. According to an earlier report by The Insider, it is plausible that Russia maintains a substantial inventory of free-falling bombs equipped with cluster munitions; however, their infrequent use can be attributed to the opposition posed by Ukrainian air defenses.

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