Image ID TDKNR4 A BM-1 combat vehicle takes part in live firing exercises for TOS-1A Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower units at Tarskoye firing range in Russia 170619 CREDIT Olga Smolskaya, TASS, ITAR-TASS NEWS AGENCY, ALAMY cover image
Library image showing exercises involving TOS-1A units in Russia (Picture: Olga Smolskaya/TASS/ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Live News).
Russia

MOD: Russia has confirmed use of thermobaric weapons

Thermobaric weapons are not illegal but their use is strictly regulated, the UK Ministry of Defence added.

Image ID TDKNR4 A BM-1 combat vehicle takes part in live firing exercises for TOS-1A Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower units at Tarskoye firing range in Russia 170619 CREDIT Olga Smolskaya, TASS, ITAR-TASS NEWS AGENCY, ALAMY cover image
Library image showing exercises involving TOS-1A units in Russia (Picture: Olga Smolskaya/TASS/ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Live News).

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) says Russia has confirmed the use of thermobaric rockets in Ukraine and is also "likely" deploying private mercenaries.

The British Government department said its Russian counterpart had confirmed the use of thermobaric weapons, also known as vacuum bombs, creating "incendiary and blast effects" in the invasion.

Posting on Twitter, the UK Ministry of Defence said: "The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine.

"The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects."

Thermobaric weapons are not illegal but their use is strictly regulated, the MOD said.

It comes as the UK MOD said the Russian state "almost certainly maintains extensive links" with Russian private military companies (PMCs) and is "likely deploying" their mercenaries to Ukraine.

What are thermobaric weapons?

Thermobaric munitions differ from other types in that they do not consist of a fuel and oxidising agent to ignite.

Instead, the fuel is dispersed as a cloud and uses atmospheric oxygen during ignition, meaning, as a result, they can be much more powerful.

The UK's MOD says the blast effects of a thermobaric weapon can last for longer than conventional explosives, with an ability to cause internal organ damage and flash burns to those exposed, resulting in death.

They are also known as vacuum bombs because they cause death by turning the atmosphere around an explosion into a vacuum, literally sucking the air out of everything, including a person's lungs.

The use of thermobaric munitions is tightly regulated, with use against military targets that may endanger civilians and use where the damage would be "excessive to the military advantage gained" or where unnecessary suffering would be caused all prohibited by the law of armed conflict, according to the UK's MOD.

Watch: What are the weapons behind Russia's nuclear threats?

The United States has warned that Russia may seek to use chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine.

It comes after Russian ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova made unfounded accusations that Ukraine was developing such weapons with the help of the United States.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the world should be "on the lookout" for the Russian use of chemical and biological weaponry.

She said: "We took note of Russia's false claims about alleged US biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine. We've also seen Chinese officials echo these conspiracy theories.

"This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine.

"Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them. It's a clear pattern," she added.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK has been supplying Ukrainian forces with hardware, including 3,615 NLAW anti-tank weapons, with more to follow.

He said a "small consignment" of Javelin anti-tank missiles will also be sent, and ministers are considering whether to also send Starstreak high-velocity anti-air missiles.

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