Evidence has emerged of Russia using its most powerful weapon shy of a nuclear bomb on Ukrainian civilians.
A vacuum bomb, or thermobaric weapon, sucks in oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a high-temperature explosion, typically producing a blast wave of a significantly longer duration than that of a conventional explosive and is capable of vaporizing human bodies.
The International Criminal Court has started investigating Russia over what are likely war crimes the country committed during its invasion of Ukraine, after a Ukrainian official claimed that Russia used a vacuum bomb, officials said.
On Monday, reporters at the U.S. Capitol were told that during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the former country used a vacuum bomb, in violation of international law, Reuters reported.
That same day, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, who was already investigating ahead of the invasion, said he was opening an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into any other potential violations, ABC News reported.
Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States on Monday accused Russia of attacking Ukrainians with cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, weapons that have been condemned by a variety of international organizations.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both said that Russian forces appeared to have used widely banned cluster munitions, with Amnesty accusing them of attacking a preschool in northeastern Ukraine while civilians took shelter inside.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters after meeting with members of the U.S. Congress that Russia had used a thermobaric weapon, known as a vacuum bomb, in its invasion of her country.
“They used the vacuum bomb today,” Markarova said outside a closed congressional hearing where committee members received an intelligence briefing on the war. “The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large.”
There has been no official confirmation that thermobaric weapons have been used in the conflict in Ukraine. CNN reported that one of its teams had spotted a Russian thermobaric multiple rocket launcher near the Ukrainian border early on Saturday afternoon.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she had seen reports but did not have confirmation that Russia had used such weapons. “If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime,” she told a press briefing, noting that there are international organizations that would assess that and President Joe Biden’s administration “would look to be a part of that conversation.”
The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
Markarova said Ukraine was working actively with the Biden administration and Congress to obtain more weapons and tougher sanctions.
“They should pay, they should pay a heavy price,” she told reporters after leaving the meeting.
One lawmaker who attended the meeting, Democratic Representative Brad Sherman, said the Ukrainians had asked for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine but that he felt that was too dangerous because it could provoke conflict with Russia. read more
Amnesty International said international humanitarian law prohibits the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions. Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime.