A Ukrainian general confirmed to CNN Thursday that Ukraine has received controversial cluster munitions from the US, after President Joe Biden said last week that he had taken the “difficult decision” to approve their transfer to Ukraine.
“We just got them, we haven't used them yet, but they can radically change [the battlefield],” Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the Tavria Joint Forces Operation, said in an interview Thursday with CNN's Alex Marquardt.
“The enemy also understands that with getting this ammunition, we will have an advantage. The enemy will give up that part of the terrain where it is possible to use this,” he said.
The arrival of the American clusters has not been previously reported.
Senior leadership will decide on the “areas of territory where it can be used,” Tarnavskyi said, noting that “this is a very powerful weapon.”
Tarnavskyi emphasized the restrictions on the use of clusters, saying their use is prohibited in heavily populated areas, even if occupied by Russian forces. The US has said they have written assurances from Ukraine that they will not be used in areas with civilians and that their use will be tracked for eventual de-mining operations.
“The Russians think that we will use it on all areas of the front,” he added. “This is very wrong. But they are very worried.”
The US said the decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions is due to Kyiv’s low supply of standard artillery rounds. The supply of clusters is “temporary,” according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
“Once [production] hits a level where unitary round production can satisfy Ukraine's needs, then there will be no need to continue giving cluster munitions,” he said Tuesday, declining to provide a timeline.
Why are cluster munitions controversial? Cluster munitions are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller bomblets, which break open above an intended target, dispersing the bomblets over that area. They are fused by a timer to explode closer to or on the ground, spreading shrapnel that is designed to kill troops or take out armoured vehicles such as tanks.
The weapons have been banned by more than 100 nations, because the bomblets they disperse fall over a wide area, posing a risk to non-combatants. Russia has, however, used these munitions during its invasion of Ukraine.