Russia has again been accused of using phosphorus bombs in its war against Ukraine, this time in an attack on Snake Island, just a day after Moscow claimed it withdrew from the front -post of the Black Sea in a “gesture of good will”.
Located just 22 miles off the coast of NATO member Romania, the island – also known as Zmiinyi – had been held by Moscow since February, when it took on symbolic and strategic importance after the adopting a Ukrainian soldier’s defiant response to a Russian warship. as a popular war cry.
On Thursday, after Kyiv reported launching a barrage of strikes on the island, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had ceded the territory in conjunction with UN-brokered agreements “to organize corridors humanitarian cereals”.
The next day, however, Russian Su-30 fighter jets launched from Crimea carried out two strikes on the island using phosphorus bombs, according to the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.
“Anyone who talks about deals with Russia should know these facts. The only thing the enemy is consistent in is the consistent ‘accuracy’ of hits,” Zaluzhnyi claimed, in a Facebook post containing images purporting to show attack.
The use of phosphorus – which can kill, maim and poison victims, burning bone on contact with flesh – is prohibited in heavily populated civilian areas under international law, but it is not considered a chemical weapon. under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of repeatedly using the weapons during Vladimir Putin’s invasion, including in attacks last month on the western city of Lutsk and Popasna in the east.
The latest allegation comes a week in which Russia has been blamed for the deaths of dozens of civilians, in strikes near the Black Sea city of Odessa, at a shopping center in Kremenchuck and in the capital Kyiv .
In an “intelligence update” on Saturday morning, the British Ministry of Defense claimed that Russia was resorting to the use of air-launched anti-ship missiles for land attacks, “likely due to dwindling stockpiles. more accurate modern weapons.
The ministry alleged that analysis of CCTV footage showed the missile that struck the mall on Monday – killing 19 people – was “most likely” a Kh-32, an upgraded version of the Kh-22 Kitchen missile from the army. soviet era.
“Although the Kh-32 has several performance improvements over the Kh-22, it is still not optimized to accurately hit ground targets, especially in an urban environment. This greatly increases the likelihood of collateral damage when targeting built-up areas,” he said.
Furthermore, he warned that the Soviet-era missiles – which “are even less accurate and unsuitable for precision strikes” – were likely used in the Odessa area on Thursday and “almost certainly repeatedly caused damage.” civilian casualties in recent weeks”.
The spate of strikes on civilian buildings in recent days has prompted claims that Russia could use the attacks to send a message to G7 and NATO leaders as they meet at respective summits this week.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko suggested the strike on a building in Kyiv, which killed six people, was ‘perhaps a symbolic attack’, coming three days after EU leaders agreed to make Ukraine a candidate for membership.
The Kremenchuk attack came the next day as the annual G7 summit saw leaders meet in Germany to discuss further support for Ukraine.
“The Russians are humiliating the leaders of the west,” warned Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, retired commander of US armed forces in Europe.
Mr Putin and his officials deny that Russia struck any residential areas and said the attack on the crowded mall targeted a nearby arms depot.
Also on the agenda of diplomatic meetings this week are discussions of the food crisis raising fears of famine in several countries following the Russian blockade in the Black Sea.
But despite Moscow’s claim that it left Snake Island in order to ease the crisis, military experts said Russian withdrawal alone would not be enough to unblock the ports.
“Does that mean that all of a sudden the grain is flowing? No, it’s not really,” said Marcus Faulkner, professor of war studies at King’s College London, noting that ports were still mined and Russia could still intercept cargo ships at sea.
And Chatham House analyst Mathieu Boulegue suggested Russia’s withdrawal could be part of a plan to build up its military forces elsewhere in the Black Sea, warning: “We shouldn’t be fooled by this. This could be a short term relief. but there will be long-term pain.
Control of Snake Island means domination of the land and, to some extent, air security of southern Ukraine, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov suggested in May, when explaining why Kyiv would fight for the island “as long as it takes”. .
“Whoever controls the island can at any time block the movement of civilian ships in all directions towards southern Ukraine,” he said, adding: “This is a strategically important point to open commercial maritime routes, import weapons to us, and exclude any possible military action by Russia on the territory of the PMR [Moldova’s Transnistria region]from where they can attack the western part of Ukraine.
On Saturday morning, the mayor of Mykolaiv urged residents to stay in shelters as he warned of “powerful explosions” in the southern city.
Hours earlier, a missile strike on an apartment building in a village near the key port city of Odessa killed at least 21 people, authorities said, about which Germany warned that Mr Putin had to be “held accountable”.
In his Friday night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes as “conscious and deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or chance missile strike.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cited Putin’s statements “that the Russian armed forces do not work with civilian targets”.
Additional reports by agencies
The Independent Gt