Ukraine has begun firing U.S.-provided cluster munitions against Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine in a push to break up well-fortified Russian positions that have slowed Ukraine’s summer offensive, according to Ukrainian officials familiar with the matter, The Washington Post reports.
The munitions debuted as Russian missiles pummeled the country’s Black Sea port region of Odessa for the third night in a row, while an attack on the nearby port city of Mykolaiv left 19 people wounded, including five children.
The use of the U.S.-made weapons, which has not been previously reported, follows President Biden’s “difficult decision” to order the delivery of the widely banned munitions last week, a move that human rights groups, European allies and some Democrats criticized because of the risk of civilian casualties.
The barrages appeared to be in response to Ukraine’s strike on the bridge connecting Russia to Crimea earlier this week. Shortly after that, Russia withdrew from the U.N.-brokered deal securing the flow of Ukrainian grain exports to the world.
In pulling out of the export deal, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of using the accord as “political blackmail.” Ukrainian officials say the Russian attacks on the ports destroyed 60,000 tons of grain and damaged storage facilities, raising concerns about a global food crisis.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said ships headed to Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea could be considered potential carriers of military cargo to Kyiv and thus “involved in the conflict” — a statement that could reduce the number of vessels willing to transport Ukraine’s grain.
On Sunday, Putin threatened to retaliate against Ukraine’s use of the cluster munitions with the Kremlin’s own supply of the weapons “if they are used against us,” although Russia has already used them in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times since the start of Moscow’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations.