What is the “vacuum bomb” that Russia is accused of using in Ukraine?

(NEXSTAR) – Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States has accused the Russian military of deploying a “vacuum bomb” in Ukraine, and in a way that would constitute a war crime.

“They used the vacuum bomb today, which is actually prohibited by the Geneva conventions,” Oksana Markarova said Monday. “So, you know, the devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is great, but the Ukrainians will resist.”

Thermobaric weapons, also known as vacuum bombs, aerosol bombs, or fuel-air explosives (EAF), are explosive devices that use atmospheric oxygen to create high-temperature explosions with larger blast waves, usually by dispersing a cloud of fuel vapor in the air before ignition. The resulting explosion also creates a “pressure wave” and a “subsequent rarefaction [vacuum]lung-busting,” the US Defense Intelligence Agency said in a 1993 study, according to a 2000 report on Russia’s use of vacuum bombs by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“If the fuel deflagrates but does not explode, the victims will be badly burned and will likely also inhale the burning fuel,” added the Defense Intelligence Agency in its 1993 study, which indicated that unexploded fuels are generally highly toxic and “should prove as deadly”. …like most chemical agents” when inhaled.

Officials have yet to independently confirm the use of vacuum bombs by the Russian military in Ukraine, although the White House has acknowledged the allegations. A CNN team had also reported seeing Russian military vehicles equipped with thermobaric launchers near the Ukrainian border.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a press briefing that the use of cluster munitions and “vacuum bombs” against Ukrainian civilians would potentially constitute crimes of war.

“I don’t have any confirmation of that,” Psaki told a reporter who asked about cluster munitions and vacuum bombs. “We have seen the reports. If true, it would potentially be a war crime. PSAKI added that “a series of international forums” would assess the criminality of such weapon use.

Under the rules set out by the Geneva Conventions, the use of thermobaric weapons could constitute a violation of Protocol III, which stipulates that incendiary weapons are prohibited in all places where a “concentration of civilians” – such as “in inhabited parts of towns, or inhabited towns or villages” — may be present.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, has already called for Russia to be investigated for war crimes after an attack in a part of Kharkiv where there were “no military targets”.

“No one will forgive. No one will forget. … This is Russian Federation state terrorism,” the Associated Press reported.

In addition to its alleged use of vacuum bombs, Amnesty International and HRW have accused Russia of using cluster munitions – devices that disperse smaller bombs – in Ukraine at the site of a school where civilians were hiding and a hospital. The controversial ammunition is currently banned by an international treaty, although Russia and Ukraine are not among its signatories.


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