Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday blasted the U.K.'s move to send tank ammunition that contains depleted uranium to Ukraine, saying Moscow would be forced to "respond accordingly."
"The United Kingdom … announced not only the supply of tanks to Ukraine but also shells with depleted uranium. If this happens, Russia will be forced to react," Putin told reporters at the Kremlin after talks with China's President Xi Jinping.
"If all this happens, Russia will have to respond accordingly, given that the West collectively is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component."
U.K. Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie said some of the ammunition for the Challenger 2 battle tanks that Britain is sending to Ukraine includes armor piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium.
She said the rounds "are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles."
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the British decision left fewer and fewer steps before a potential "nuclear collision" between Russia and the West.
"Another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left," he told reporters in remarks cited by domestic agencies.
Depleted uranium is used in weapons because it can penetrate tanks and armor more easily due to its density and other physical properties, a point that Goldie made.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical weapons expert and former British Army officer, on Wednesday said Putin's comments were "absolutely bonkers" and "completely wrong," noting that depleted uranium "cannot be used as a nuclear fuel or turned into a nuclear weapon." He said Putin is trying "to persuade Xi to give him weapons and to terrify people in the West that he is planning to escalate to nuclear weapons."
"Putin has been using the nuclear escalation card since the beginning of the war to keep NATO out but it has not worked," de Bretton-Gordon told CBS News. "As his army is disintegrating, he is trying to persuade China to give him weapons and thinks threatening nuclear weapons will make NATO force [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy] to the negotiating table."
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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