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The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would supply Ukraine with depleted uranium tank rounds for the first time in its ongoing war with Russia.
“The United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with capabilities to meet its immediate battlefield needs and longer-term security assistance requirement,” a news release from the Department of Defense said.
According to Reuters, the decision reportedly comes after weeks of internal debate about sending the controversial “armor-piercing” munitions that can be fired from U.S. Abrams tanks.
Scott Boston, a defense analyst at the Rand Corporation and former Army artillery officer, told The Wall Street Journal the projectile’s impact is similar to “a freight train.”
“It is very long and very dense,” Boston said. “So it puts a great deal of kinetic energy on a specific point on an enemy armor array.”
Boston said that although tank-on-tank fighting has not been common during the war, the U.S. would “like the Ukrainians to win at it” to the extent that it does happen.
The Biden administration previously said it would send cluster munitions to Ukraine despite the danger it poses to civilians. Britain reportedly first sent depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine, but the U.S. has held off until now.
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons has argued that ingesting or inhaling depleted uranium dust could lead to various cancers and birth defects, according to Reuters.
However, studies by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, in Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Lebanon show “the existence of depleted uranium residues dispersed in the environment does not pose a radiological hazard to the population of the affected regions,” Reuters noted.
In addition to the anti-tank weapons, U.S. officials sent air defense equipment and other artillery munitions valued at up to $175 million in its forty-sixth tranche of equipment. Since the full-scale war erupted in February 2022, the U.S. has spent more than $43 billion on security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs.
President Joe Biden asked Congress last month to approve an additional $20.6 billion package to Ukraine for military aid and economic, humanitarian, and security assistance for other countries impacted by the war, according to The Washington Post.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made another surprise visit to Ukraine on Wednesday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials.
“Returned to Kyiv today to meet with our Ukrainian partners to discuss their ongoing counteroffensive, future assistance and reconstruction efforts, and above all, to reinforce the unwavering U.S. commitment to Ukraine,” Blinken said in an X-post.
The visit comes as Zelensky replaced Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve more American funding for Ukraine. Reznikov was removed amid allegations of corruption within the Ukrainian military, which has received billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. One recently released report from the Department of Defense showed that criminal gangs were likely taking military equipment and weapons from the front lines, some of which may have been sent by the U.S.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed support for continued aid to Ukraine after some Republicans have shifted their position on sending aid.
“Since Putin’s escalation in Ukraine, President Biden has not been as decisive as many of us would have preferred,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, reported by The Washington Post. “But this is no excuse for Congress to compound his administration’s failures with failures of our own.”
The House Freedom Caucus has already announced that it will “oppose any blank check for Ukraine in any supplemental appropriations bill” as a battle over government funding looms before Congress.
In the Senate, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) has said she would oppose a move to separate federal funding for disaster relief at home from funding for Ukraine.
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.