Cluster bombs

Ukraine has accepted cluster munitions from the United States. "Our position is simple - we must liberate our temporarily occupied territories and save the lives of our people," - wrote Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.

Reznikov says that five basic principles will apply if Ukraine uses cluster munitions:

- Kiev will only use them to liberate its territory within its internationally recognised borders and will not use these weapons on Russian territory

- To avoid civilian casualties, Ukraine will not use cluster munitions in urban areas.

- Kiev will keep a register of the use of cluster munitions and the locations where they have been used.

- Based on the data from this register, after the liberation of the territory and a Ukrainian victory, sites of cluster munitions use will be prioritised as areas to be demined.

- Ukraine's political-military partners will be informed about the use of cluster munitions and its effects.

In the future, these weapons may also be used to demine Ukrainian territory, making it possible to avoid injuries or deaths of many people (both military engineers and civilians).

Russia has been using cluster munitions, on Ukrainian territory (and also against civilians) for at least a year, as reported by numerous human rights organisations. There is no indication that Russia is keeping a register to facilitate later demining. In fact, Russia has already mined more than 30% of Ukrainian territory - an area twice the size of Austria.

Cluster munitions are highly controversial weapons.  Since 2008, 123 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (, pledging never to use, transfer, produce or stockpile these munitions. However, a number of countries have not done so, including the USA, Russia, China, Ukraine, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela or EU member states like Poland, Romania, Greece, Estonia and Finland. Many other countries (including the UK, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa), although having signed the convention, still have stockpiles of cluster munitions and/or have only begun to destroy these stocks.

Since the USA and Ukraine have not signed the 2008 Convention, Washington’s supply of cluster munitions would not break the treaty, which is binding only on states that sign. Use of such weapons against civilians could of course constitute a crime. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unlawful in any case, and its previous use of cluster munitions has probably included crimes against civilians.

Those in the western left who support Russia have predictably condemned the US offer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, while avoiding mention of Russia’s massive illegal use of similar munitions over the last sixteen months. They actually oppose all arms deliveries to Ukraine – cluster munitions are for them an opportunity to present all Ukrainian resistance as illegitimate. They also oppose other options for minefield clearance; Irish and Austrian ‘peace activists’ have for example opposed the use of their countries neutral armed forces for technical support to Ukraine’s demining.

Some genuine solidarity activists are also opposed to supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions, while others are undecided.

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