US to send controversial depleted-uranium munitions to Ukraine

(Reuters) -The Pentagon on Wednesday announced a new security assistance package worth up to $175 million for Ukraine, including depleted uranium ammunition for Abrams tanks, the first time the U.S. is sending the controversial armor-piercing munitions to Kyiv.

Reuters was first to report last week that the rounds, which could help destroy Russian tanks, would form part of a new military aid package for Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded in February 2022.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said the military aid would also include anti-armor systems, tactical air navigation systems and additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

The announcement coincides with top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken's visit to Kyiv in a gesture of support as a Ukraine counteroffensive against occupying Russian troops grinds into its fourth month with only small gains.

The $175 million was part of a total of more than $1 billion in assistance that Blinken announced in the Ukrainian capital.

It also included over $665 million in new military and civilian security assistance and millions of dollars in support for Ukraine's air defenses and other areas.

Although Britain sent depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine earlier this year, this would be the first U.S. shipment of the ammunition and will likely stir controversy.

The Russian embassy in Washington denounced the decision as "an indicator of inhumanity", adding that "the United States is deluding itself by refusing to accept the failure of the Ukrainian military's so-called counteroffensive."

Blinken on Wednesday hailed progress in the pushback and said of the fresh U.S. package of support: "This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum."

Washington previously announced it would send cluster munitions to Ukraine, despite concerns over the dangers such weapons pose to civilians.

The use of depleted uranium munitions has been fiercely debated, with opponents like the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons saying there are dangerous health risks from ingesting or inhaling depleted uranium dust, including cancers and birth defects.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Mike Stone; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh and Ronald Popeski; editing by Rami Ayyub, Eric Beech and Grant McCool)