KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published Sunday that Moscow has a “sufficient stockpile” of cluster munitions, and warned that Russia “reserves the right to take reciprocal action” if Ukraine uses the controversial weapons.
In his first comments on the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine from the U.S., Putin said that Russia hasn’t used cluster bombs in the war with Ukraine so far. But the use of cluster bombs by both Russia and Ukraine has been widely documented, including by The Associated Press and international humanitarian organizations, and cluster rounds have been found in the aftermath of Russian strikes.
“Until now, we have not done this, we have not used it, and we have not had such a need,” he said.
Rossiya TV reporter Pavel Zarubin published excerpts of the interview to his Telegram channel Sunday before a scheduled broadcast on Sunday night.
The Pentagon said Thursday that cluster munitions provided by the United States had arrived in Ukraine.
The munitions, which are bombs that open in the air and release scores of smaller bomblets, are seen by the U.S. as a way to get Kyiv critically needed ammunition to help bolster its offensive and push through Russian front lines. U.S. leaders debated the thorny issue for months, before President Joe Biden made the final decision last week.
Cluster bombs have long been criticized by humanitarian groups, and some U.S. allies, because those used in previous conflicts have had a high “dud rate,” meaning that they often leave behind unexploded bomblets that can harm civilians long after a battle has ended.
Proponents argue that Russia has already been using cluster munitions in Ukraine and that the weapons the U.S. is providing have been improved to leave behind far fewer unexploded rounds. Ukraine has promised to use them only away from densely populated areas.
The Ukrainian military said in a regular update on Sunday morning that over the previous 24 hours, Russia had launched two Iranian-made Shahed exploding drones, two cruise missiles and two anti-aircraft guided missiles, in addition to 40 airstrikes and 46 attacks from multiple rocket launchers.
The Ukrainian General Staff wrote that Russia continues to concentrate on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east. Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Sunday that two residents of the region were killed on Saturday, and one other person was wounded.
The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, said seven people were injured in a Russian attack Sunday evening on the city, Ukraine’s second-largest.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Sunday that fighting in eastern Ukraine had “somewhat intensified,” amid a slow counteroffensive in which Ukraine has made small territorial gains.
Writing on Telegram, she said that Russia had been “actively attacking” in the direction of Kupiansk in the northeastern Kharkiv region for two consecutive days, and that Ukrainian forces were “on the defensive” in the area.
“There are fierce battles, the positions of both sides change dynamically several times a day,” she wrote.
Maliar wrote that Ukrainian troops were trying to hold onto their positions on the northern flank around the destroyed city of Bakhmut, but reported that Ukrainian forces were “advancing daily” on the southern flank. Ukraine has been trying to encircle the city since losing control of it to Russia in May.
Putin claimed that the Ukrainian counteroffensive had been futile, in another excerpt published by Zarubin.
“All attempts by the enemy to break through our defenses … they were unsuccessful during the entire offensive. The enemy is having no success!” Putin said.
Elsewhere in the country, two boys, ages 8 and 10, were wounded when an explosive device left by Russian forces detonated in the southern region of Kherson on Sunday, according to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office.
Regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said that Russia had launched 69 shelling attacks against the Kherson region. A 59-year-old man died on Saturday when attempting to disarm a round in the regional capital, also called Kherson.
Yurii Malashko, governor of the neighboring, partly occupied, Zaporizhzhia region, said Russia had attacked 13 populated areas in the region, wounding seven people in the town of Stepnohirsk.
Moscow-installed authorities in the Russia-occupied Crimea on Sunday reported “a massive and prolonged” drone attack overnight targeting Sevastopol, the peninsula’s largest port, which hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. According to the Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, air defense systems shot down all of the drones and there was no damage.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, said that a woman was killed Sunday by shelling in the town of Shebekino near the border with Ukraine.