Depleted Uranium Added to Toxic Mess in Ukraine

Following on from its decision to donate widely banned cluster munitions to Ukraine the US is sending armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU) munitions to fight Russia. Indifferent to the poisonous effect of these weapons, the Justin Trudeau government has remained mum on Washington’s escalatory move.

Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product from the production of fuel used in atomic power stations. A heavy metal, DU is good for armor-piercing rounds.

But it’s also toxic. Studies have linked DU munitions to cancer and birth defects. The US DU munitions will add to the growing health and ecological damage of the war.

As the world’s second biggest producer of uranium, Canada is the source of a significant share of US uranium. Over the past two decades Canada has abstained on a series of UN resolutions concerning DU munitions. Backed by the vast majority of General Assembly members, the resolutions don’t even call for the abolition of DU, but only for transparency in their use to enable clean up.

Canadian forces have supported the use of DU munitions. In the first Gulf War 4,000 Canadians fought alongside US forces that fired shells with DU, which probably increased the incidence of cancer and congenital disease for those nearby. Similarly, the Canadian air force was a major participant in the 1999 bombing of Serbia in which NATO jets dropped bombs containing DU, causing long term ecological damage.

Alongside health and ecological concerns, the DU munitions donation escalates the conflict. Russian officials labelled the new US donations a “criminal act” and “indicator of inhumanity”. When the UK gave Ukraine DU-laced arms to use in Challenger 2 tanks, Russia cited the move to justify stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Ottawa has been a staunch proponent of NATO’s proxy war. At the recent G20 meeting in India, Prime Minister Trudeau complained there wasn’t a stronger condemnation of Russia. Over the past year and a half Canada has given $2 billion in arms, promoted former Canadian soldiers fighting, trained thousands of Ukrainian troops and dispatched special forces to Ukraine. Ottawa has also provided significant intelligence assistance with the Communications Security Establishment even extending its cyber defence umbrella to Ukraine.

While rarely raising peace negotiations, Trudeau has repeatedly said “Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes”. Combined with NATO prodding Ukraine into a horrific counteroffensive, this effectively means prolonging the death and destruction, which could have been avoided if the US/NATO agreed not to expand to Ukraine. In a recent speech NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg all but said as much, noting “President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that… So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders.

Notwithstanding Trudeau’s statements about “as long as it takes”, the government appears to be slowing down new arms announcements. The last one seems to have been five months ago on April 11. Maybe Canadian weapons stocks are running low or the government understands the public is souring on arms deliveries.

On the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion the National Post reported on a poll that found “only 33 per cent believe Canada should provide more personnel to train Ukrainian soldiers and just 32 per cent believe more military equipment should be provided.” The numbers are remarkable considering that no one in the dominant media or Parliament is articulating this position. With Ukraine’s counteroffensive failing, opposition to arms donations has likely grown. And Kyiv’s increasingly desperate response to the failure is troubling even if understandable amidst Russian violence. Sending drones to hit targets in Moscow will have limited military benefit but is sure to harden Russian resolve, making compromise more difficult.

Two columns in the Financial Times this month highlight the prevailing madness. “Ukraine cannot win against Russia now, but victory by 2025 is possible”, noted one headline while another stated “Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine would be a moral defeat.”

Nineteen months into this horrendous war the usually sober minded establishment paper seems to believe a “moral” victory is sending depleted uranium, ensuring ever more immediate and long-term death and destruction.

Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.