Speaking to journalist Pavel Zarubin, Putin offered his take on the decision by the administration of US President Joe Biden to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions – which are banned in more than 100 countries due to the risk they pose to civilians.
“The US administration itself gave an assessment of these munitions through the mouths of its employees some time ago… calling the use [of these munitions] a crime. This is how I think it should be regarded,” he said, according to an extract of the interview released on Sunday.
The Russian president was apparently referring to a statement made by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in late February 2022, days after the start of the Ukraine conflict, in which she said that the use of the controversial munitions could be regarded as a war crime.
The Russian leader suggested that the US approved the move due to a shortage of ammunition, noting that Ukraine’s shell consumption far exceeds the current stockpiles of the West.
“Russia has a sufficient stock of various types of cluster munitions… So far, we have not used them. We have not needed to, despite the well-known [munitions] deficit for a certain period of time,” Putin continued.
“But of course, if [Ukraine] uses them [cluster munitions] against us, we reserve the right to reciprocal measures,” he stressed.
Washington announced the decision to send cluster munitions to Kiev earlier this month, and American officials recently confirmed that the controversial ammo has already arrived in Ukraine.
Cluster munitions are notorious for releasing large numbers of bomblets over a wide area when they explode. The submunitions often fail to detonate, posing a serious threat to civilians for many years after the fighting has ended.
Many of Washington’s allies have expressed concerns about the move, while Moscow has outright condemned it. Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, called it a “gesture of desperation” and a tacit recognition of Kiev’s lackluster performance on the battlefield. He also accused US policymakers of “ignoring the arguments about the inhumanity” of the step, and of “turning a blind eye to civilian casualties.”