The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that cluster munitions provided by the United States have arrived in Ukraine.
The munitions — bombs that open in the air and release smaller bomblets — are seen by the United States as a way to get Ukraine critically needed ammunition to help strengthen its offensive and push through the Russian front lines. U.S. leaders debated the issue for months before President Joe Biden made the final decision last week.
Leaders in the U.S. have said the country will send a version of the munition with a lower “dud rate,” meaning fewer of the smaller bomblets fail to explode — the unexploded rounds, which often litter populated areas and battlefields, cause unintended deaths. Officials in the U.S. said Washington would provide thousands of the rounds but gave no specific numbers.
Director of operations for the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, told reporters Thursday that “cluster munitions have indeed been delivered to Ukraine at this point.” However, it was unclear if Ukrainian troops have used them yet.
Biden described the decision to provide the projectiles as “very difficult” and cited their record of killing civilians. More than 120 countries worldwide — but not Russia, Ukraine, or the U.S. — have signed on to an international convention that discourages the use of the munitions or prohibits their use. Kyiv and Moscow deployed the munitions during the war, with Ukrainian officials regularly accusing Russian forces of using them to target civilians.
Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Biden for the U.S. military aid and said shipments of the controversial cluster munitions would aid Ukraine’s fight against Russia. The two met during the NATO summit in Lithuania, where Western nations made fresh pledges of ammunition and weapons to fight Russia’s invasion.
DeSantis, Trump opposed supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions
GOP Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, spoke Wednesday against the administration’s decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions, joining former President Trump in opposition to the move.
“Would you support sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, like some of the other Republican candidates, or are you opposed to it?” asked host Howie Carr of DeSantis during an interview on “The Howie Carr Show.”
“I don’t want to do anything that’s gonna escalate this conflict. I think that right now, you have an open-ended blank check. There’s no clear objective for victory. And this is kind of dragging on and on,” said DeSantis, adding that the danger is that it could escalate or “end up just going on for years.”
“So, yes or no to cluster bombs if you were president?” Carr questioned the Florida governor.
“I would not do that, no. I think it runs; I think it probably runs a risk of escalation. Basically, what I said from the beginning is no weapons that could lead to attacks inside Russia or escalate the conflict. We cannot become involved in this directly,” said DeSantis.
Last week, the administration announced plans to provide Ukraine with the controversial weapons. The bombs contain several submunitions that could lie dormant after they’ve been deployed, posing risks to civilians.
President Joe Biden, who is running for a second term in 2024, defended the call and said it was a “very difficult decision” and explained that a factor is “the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.”
Trump, who is running for another presidential term after losing to Biden in 2020, said this week that the president “should not be dragging us further toward World War III by sending cluster munitions to Ukraine.”
DeSantis, who continues to poll second in the Republican race for president behind Trump, also raised concerns in the Wednesday interview that sending the weapons to Ukraine could “diminish our stockpiles and prevent us from being able to respond to exigencies around the world.”
“What if something happens in the Indo-Pacific? What, we just don’t have an ability to respond? So, there’s a whole host of things around the world that we’ve got to be concerned with, and I think Biden is ignoring a lot of other threats,” said DeSantis.
Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence has backed the move by the Biden administration. Pence said he welcomes the decision to send cluster munitions and that the interest of the U.S. is “to give the Ukrainian military the means to repel Russian aggression.”