Vladimir Putin says British plans to deliver ammunition with depleted uranium to Ukraine will trigger a Russian response, as its defence minister warns it would be another step towards a nuclear clash with the West.
Putin's declaration came during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit with the Russian President at the Kremlin, in a highly publicised three-day meeting between the two heads of state.
The British Minister of State for Defence, Baroness Annabel Goldie, confirmed on Monday that as well as sending a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, the UK will be providing ammunition, "including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium".
"Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles," she said.
Speaking after talks with Xi, Putin said Britain's plans to provide Ukraine with ammunition for battle tanks containing depleted uranium heralds the West switching to supplying Kyiv with weapons containing nuclear components.
He said that Russia will respond if it happens, but did not elaborate further.
Al Jazeera reports Russia's Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has also condemned the plan, saying it 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,” Shoigu told reporters in remarks cited by domestic agencies. Asked whether this meant the world was closer to a nuclear incident, he replied: “It was not by chance that I told you about steps. There are fewer and fewer.”
The UK has already provided £2.3 billion worth of military aid to the Ukrainian army in 2022, after the Eastern European nation was invaded by Russia just over a year ago. That included anti-aircraft guns, a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks, a thousand surface to air missiles, more than 200,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and nearly 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunakpromised to "double down" on military support this year, and said the UK would become the first country to provide Ukraine with "longer-range weapons". But the UK has so far shied away from providing Ukraine with fighter jets, despite pleas from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Earlier in Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow, the pair discussed China's plan to settle “the acute crisis in Ukraine”. The Russian President welcomed the Chinese leader to the Kremlin on Monday, in a visit that sent a powerful message to Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate Moscow have fallen short.
Putin congratulated Xi on his recent re-election, and voiced hope for building even stronger ties. “China has made a colossal leap ahead in its development in recent years,” Putin said, adding that “it’s causing genuine interest all around the world, and we even feel a bit envious”, as Xi smiled.
He welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement in Ukraine and noted Russia is open for talks. “We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” Putin said. “Our co-operation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that, over dinner on Monday, the two leaders’ discussions were likely to include a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, while the two leaders were also expected to sign “important bilateral documents”.
Xi’s government announced he would travel to Russia just hours before the International Criminal Court charged Putin with war crimes. The International Criminal Court last week issued a warrant to arrest the Russian president over his actions in Ukraine.
In a statement confirming the arrest warrant, the ICC said that Putin is “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.” It comes after a UN-backed human rights inquiry concluded that “systemic and widespread” torture and killings have taken place in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion.