BEIJING, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Britain's decision to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium has elicited a strong reaction from Russia, spurring fears that the current crisis in Ukraine might escalate and spiral out of control.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said in Washington on Wednesday that Western countries led by the United States have decided to bring humankind to the brink of a nuclear Armageddon, TASS news agency reported.
He made the remarks while responding to statements by U.S. officials that depleted uranium munitions are a standard type of weapon used for decades and don't pose any heightened risk, according to TASS reports.
"Commenting on this kind of nonsense is really hard. U.S. officials have reached a new low with their irresponsible statements. There is a continuous flow of lethal weapons to Ukraine, which are used to annihilate civilians, residential areas, schools, hospitals, kindergartens," Antonov said, cited by TASS.
Speaking in London on Monday, British Minister of State for Defence Annabel Goldie said some of the ammunition her country would send to Ukraine alongside Challenger 2 tanks contains depleted uranium.
Russian leaders quickly denounced the move.
"I would like to note in this regard that if all this happens, then Russia will be forced to react accordingly. I mean that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with a nuclear component," Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday in Moscow, cited by Sputnik news agency.
"It seems that the West really decided to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian, not in words, but in deeds," he added.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu echoed Putin's warning, saying there would be few red lines left uncrossed if Britain delivered on its promise to give Ukraine depleted uranium weapons, Sputnik reported.
"I can only say this: We are running out of red lines...Another line has been crossed, and there are fewer and fewer of them left," he told reporters in Moscow, cited by Sputnik.
The United Nations on Tuesday also expressed concerns over Britain's plan to send shells made with depleted uranium to Ukraine.
"You'll have seen the concerns we've expressed over the years about any use of depleted uranium given the consequences of such usage. And those would apply to anyone who provides such armaments," Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said at a media briefing.
"We have made clear, including through our Office of Disarmament Affairs, concerns about any use of depleted uranium anywhere," Haq added.
Depleted uranium is the main by-product of uranium enrichment and is a chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
This dense metal is used in munitions for its penetrating ability and as a protective material in armored vehicles, it said, noting that air, soil, water, and vegetation could potentially be contaminated and affected by its residues.
In a 2022 report, the United Nations said that depleted uranium was an environmental concern in Ukraine.
"Depleted uranium and toxic substances in common explosives can cause skin irritation, kidney failure and increase the risks of cancer," said the report.
The use of depleted uranium ammunition in Ukraine will affect the country's agriculture sector, Sputnik said on Wednesday, citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"The use of depleted uranium ammunition will dramatically reduce, or maybe even not preserve at all Ukraine's ability to produce high-quality uninfected food," Lavrov warned at a press conference. ■