American-supplied cluster bombs necessary for defense, Ukrainian president says at summit
Stars and Stripes July 12, 2023
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered reassurances Wednesday that controversial American-made cluster bombs will be used with caution, adding Ukraine’s access to the weapon is “all about fairness.”
"Russia is constantly using cluster shells in our area. It fights exclusively on our land, killing our people … we are defending ourselves,” Zelenskyy said moments before joining world leaders for security talks at NATO’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
After months of debate, President Joe Biden last week decided to send Ukraine cluster munitions, which are banned by many allies and other nations.
The munitions pose a risk to civilians because they may scatter widely and sometimes fail to detonate on impact. Unexploded bombs may remain live for many decades after a war ends.
However, the weapon can be effective on the battlefield. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme allied commander and head of U.S. European Command, during testimony in April said such munitions could be put to use against Russian forces.
“It's very effective against mixed targets of personnel and equipment, especially when those targets are gathered into dense formations,” Cavoli said. “It is happening in Bakhmut … and it happens on most battlefields when one force goes into the offense. So, as a strictly military matter, it is a useful and very effective munition.”
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces will direct the bombs at occupied territories in Ukraine.
"It is absolutely controlled and will not be used anywhere else,” he said. “There must be justice. Look, there is no justice in this, that the aggressor has occupied us.”
Zelenskyy’s comments came on the final day of NATO’s two-day summit, where he attended the inaugural meeting of the newly formed Ukraine-NATO Council.
The Ukrainian president caused a stir a day earlier when he blasted NATO for not presenting a definitive timeline for when Ukraine could join the alliance. Instead, NATO agreed Ukraine eventually will become a member, but only after the war has ended and certain government reforms have been achieved.
But speaking alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Wednesday, Zelenskyy put a positive spin on the agreement. Notably, Ukraine no longer will be required to complete a Membership Action Plan that is normally a prerequisite for new members to join the alliance.
“This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday. “And we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree that conditions are met.”
In the end, Zelenskyy called the summit a success for Ukraine, although it fell short of hopes that the gathering would generate a more direct path into the alliance.
“We can state that the results of the summit are good, but if there was an invitation, it would be perfect," he said.