What are vacuum bombs and cluster bombs? What to Know Amid Ukraine Reports – NBC Chicago

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States reportedly said that Russia used a vacuum bomb during its invasion of the country and that rights groups accused Russia of using cluster bombs in the attacks, but what are these bombs and how are they different from other explosives?

Here’s a breakdown of what to know about vacuum bombs, thermobaric bombs, and cluster bombs amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

What are vacuum bombs or thermobaric bombs?

A thermobaric bomb, also known as a vacuum bomb, uses oxygen from its surrounding area to generate a longer lasting explosion.

According to Reuters, the bombs are capable of “vaporizing human bodies”.

What about cluster bombs?

Rights groups and observers have also said Russia used cluster bombs in its invasion of Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies. If confirmed, the deployment of the weapon, particularly in crowded civilian areas, would bring new humanitarian concerns to the conflict, Europe’s biggest ground war in generations.

Cluster bombs are weapons that open up in the air, releasing submunitions, or “bombettes”, that are scattered over a wide area, intended to wreak havoc on multiple targets at once. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, cluster bombs can be dropped by aircraft, artillery and missiles.

Beyond the initial damage caused by ammunition on impact, bomblets have a high rate of detonation failure, up to 40% in some recent conflicts, according to the ICRC.

This leaves swathes of land strewn with bombs that could explode. Returning to normal life in these areas becomes dangerous, especially in heavily populated areas. Some once war-torn countries spend years trying to clean up unexploded cluster bombs.

What has and has not been confirmed?

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters after meeting with members of the US Congress that Russia used a thermobaric weapon during its invasion.

“They used the vacuum bomb today, which is actually prohibited by the Geneva convention,” Markarova said. “The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is great.”

She did not provide details of where such a weapon was used or provide evidence to support her claim.

Dmitry Peskov, a Russian spokesman, denied the allegations on Tuesday, saying it was “definitely a fake”.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing that she had seen reports of the use of vacuum bombs, but could not confirm it.

“We’ve seen the reports,” she said. “If true, it would potentially be a war crime.”

CNN reported that his team saw a thermobaric “launcher” near the Ukrainian border over the weekend, but noted that there was no evidence that a launcher had been used.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch deputy director of armaments Mark Hiznay told The Associated Press that Russian forces had “most certainly” used cluster bombs in Ukraine.

He cited at least two cases: a missile attack that struck outside a hospital in the town of Vuhledar on the first day of the invasion last week. and another Monday over Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, with a population of 1.4 million.

Hiznay retweeted photos of what he said were unexploded 9N235 submunitions scattered in Kharkiv. Human Rights Watch said four people were killed in the Vuhledar strike.

Rights groups said three people were killed after Russian cluster bombs hit near a kindergarten in the northeastern town of Okhtyrka. Open-source intelligence group Bellingcat says its researchers found cluster munitions in that strike as well as multiple cluster attacks in Kharkiv.

Amnesty International said Russian forces had a “shameful record of using cluster munitions in populated areas”.

Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based defense think tank, said images of munitions pieces recovered from residential areas of Kharkiv are “concrete evidence” that Russia is using cluster bombs .

“Their use suggests that the Russians are trying to break morale, inflict terror on the civilian population and defenders in an attempt to force a negotiation or simply retreat,” he said.

Russia denies using cluster munitions in Ukraine.

Is the use of cluster bombs legal?

The use of cluster bombs in itself does not violate international law, but their use against civilians may constitute a violation. As with any strike, determining a war crime requires verifying whether the target was legitimate and whether precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties.

“The part of international law where it starts to play (a role), however, is indiscriminate attacks targeting civilians,” Mark Hiznay, deputy director of armaments at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “So it’s not necessarily related to weapons, but how weapons are used.”

A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries who have agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to dispose of them after they have been used.

Russia and Ukraine have not acceded to this convention. Neither does the United States.

Supporters of banning cluster bombs say they kill indiscriminately and endanger civilians long after they are used. From Syria and Yemen to the Balkans, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, unexploded ordnance from cluster bombs continues to kill and maim people years, if not decades, after ammunition was fired.

Although many countries have joined a global convention restricting their use, cluster munitions are still used in conflict zones around the world.

What does development mean for Ukraine?

US senators noted Ukraine’s need for additional weapons coming out of a Monday night meeting with Markarova on Capitol Hill. Congress is preparing additional funding to help Ukraine during the crisis, and the White House is seeking at least $6.4 billion in military and humanitarian aid.

“They need more guns,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the intelligence committee.

“It’s David versus Goliath,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think any human being who reads the reports that come out realizes that’s disastrous.”

Senators in the United States are working to deliver munitions such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine – what Risch called an “all of the above” effort.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops had stepped up the bombardment of Ukraine, calling it an effort to force his government to make concessions during talks held on Monday.

In a video address Monday evening, Zelenskyy said that “the talks were taking place against the background of shelling and shelling of our territory, of our cities. The synchronization of the bombardment with the negotiation process was obvious. I believe that Russia is trying to put pressure (on Ukraine) with this simple method.

The president gave no details of the talks which lasted for hours. But he says Ukraine is not ready to make concessions “when one side hits each other with artillery rockets”.

Zelenskyy says that Kyiv, the capital, remains “a key objective” for the Russians and that Russian forces have also bombarded the city of Kharkiv with artillery rockets.

NBC Chicago

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