Tensions have risen between Russia and the United Kingdom over a military aid package sent to Ukraine that includes armour-piercing tank ammunition containing depleted uranium.

The UK’s decision to send military aid to Ukraine containing depleted uranium ammunition has sparked a warning from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said that Moscow would be “forced to react” if the potentially lethal shells are provided.

Annabel Goldie, a Minister of State at the UK Ministry of Defence, confirmed that the military aid package included depleted uranium ammunition as well as Challenger 2 battle tanks, which are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enriching process and is chemically and radiologically toxic. 

While the UK’s Ministry of Defence has dismissed Putin’s warnings and accused Russia of disinformation, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has warned that the UK’s decision left fewer steps before a potential “nuclear collision” between Russia and the West. 

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Concerns over uranium ammunition

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has condemned UK's decision, calling it an “additional environmental and health disaster for those living through the conflict,” according to AFP news agency.

Depleted uranium ammunition has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, and its use can release toxic or radioactive dust on impact. 

The United Nations Environment Programme has described depleted uranium ammunition as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal”.

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Attempt to deter Western security assistance? 

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the UK’s Royal Tank Regiment, has called Putin’s insinuations that the ammunition is some sort of nuclear weapon “bonkers”. 

He told the Associated Press news agency that depleted uranium is a common component of tank rounds and is completely inert.

The Institute for the Study of War has suggested that Putin has portrayed the ammunition as “escalatory in order to deter Western security assistance” despite the shells not containing any fissile or radiological material.

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'Uncontrollable phase'

The issue of depleted uranium ammunition is not new, with concerns over its use first raised during the Gulf War in 1991.

Since then, there have been numerous debates over the use of the ammunition, with some arguing that it is necessary for military effectiveness while others argue that the health and environmental risks outweigh any benefits.

The joint statement by Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping at the end of their meeting on Tuesday warned against any steps that might push the Ukraine conflict into an “uncontrollable phase” and pointedly added that there could be no winners in a nuclear war.

READ MORE: Live blog: Xi, Putin hail 'new era' of ties in united front against West

Source: TRTWorld and agencies