Russia allegedly used white phosphorus northwest of Kyiv

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of using white phosphorus ammunition on March 23 in a municipality near Kiev. White phosphorus is an incendiary and corrosive chemical element whose use regularly raises speculations about chemical weapons treaties.

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Has Russia just taken a new step in its military offensive against Ukraine? Igor Kosov, journalist Kyiv Independentreported on 23 March that the town of Irpin, a few kilometers northwest of Kyiv, had been attacked in white phosphorus. On March 24, Ukraine’s ambassador to France said on BFMTV that white phosphorus was also used in other cities of the country, in particular in Izyum, located between Kharkiv and Donetsk, in the east. The use of white phosphorus is debated. If the item is not prohibited or even considered armed chemical according to Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC, Chemical Weapons Convention), its effects on the population can be particularly dire, as white phosphorus can be incendiary and corrosive.

White phosphorus: a strategic asset?

White phosphorus is a derived element, or allotrope, phosphorus. Having a yellowish appearance, it can ignite on contact with air, reaching a temperature of approximately 800 ° C, and its vapors, formed from phosphoric acid, are corrosive, causing significant damage to organic tissues burns up to the third degree. The first use of white phosphorus by conventional armies dates from World War I, in 1916. During the following decades, many countries were equipped with white phosphorus ammunition, the latter being usable as smoke due to the high amount of fumes emitted from it. Their incendiary ability can sometimes light up the ground night.

From the beginning of the XXas well as For centuries, white phosphorus has been used in many theaters of war: during World War II, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the first war in Afghanistan. White phosphorus munitions have gained a (bad) reputation in recent years during events such as the First Battle of Fallujah in 2004, during which the US military was accused of using the munitions in an incendiary form against insurgents. Israel was honored in 2009 for the use of white phosphorus in the Gaza Strip, and in 2017 coalition against ISIS will resort to the allotrope several times during the battles of Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqa (Syria).

Red line… and gray

If the characteristics mentioned above can indicate that white phosphorus is classified as a chemical weapon, then this is not the case. The use of white phosphorus perfectly legal and is not within the scope Chemical Weapons Conventionratified in 1993. On the other hand, protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW, Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which entered into force in 1983) prohibits the use of white phosphorus in the form of firebombs against civilians or military targets. The only possibilities of use: in the form of smoke or lighting ammunition.

Although Russia is suspected of organizing a chemical attack in Ukraine, the use of white phosphorus bombs, according to Ukrainian diplomats, is a war crime. Since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Russian forces have committed numerous violations, such as the bombing of hospitals, which are considered a war crime under Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. On March 2, the International Criminal Court opened. study of about atrocities of the Russian army over the past four weeks.

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