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What is a vacuum bomb? The new weapon Russia has admitted unleashing on Ukraine

Thermobaric weapons considered most brutal in existence by experts apart from nuclear missiles

Arpan Rai
Friday 18 March 2022 10:49 GMT
Related: Missile explosion near Kyiv airport causes damage to residential building

Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine has taken a horrifying turn after Vladimir Putin’s forces admitted using thermobaric weapons against the former Soviet territory.

Thermobaric weapons are considered to be one of the most brutal war weapons in existence.

The missiles are filled with a highly explosive fuel and chemical mix, which, on exploding, can cause supersonic blast waves capable of obliterating everything in their path, including buildings and humans.

They are also known as aerosol bombs or vacuum bombs.

Among the Russian weapons that have been seen moving towards the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and other cities in the last week are TOS-1 thermobaric rocket launchers.

They are not used for precision strikes but can be deployed for clearing stretches of ground.

On Wednesday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a tweet that they had been fired, without giving a precise location, writing: “The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine. The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects.”

Peter Lee of the University of Portsmouth explained precisely how these bombs work in 2016 in the aftermath of Russia allegedly using them in Syria.

“Imagine taking a deep breath then submerging yourself in water. Then imagine having all of the oxygen forced instantaneously from your body. Try to inhale again. But instead of cold water filling your lungs, toxic, flammable particles start killing you from the inside out,” he wrote.

Only blasts caused by nuclear attacks are considered worse. Russia has allegedly used these missiles in both Chechnya and Syria in the recent past.

NR Jenzen-Jones, an arms and artillery intelligence specialist, said on Twitter: “Broad range of military equipment seen in RUS [Russian] invasion, including TOS-1 series thermobaric multiple-barrel rocket launchers. Whilst strikes have been relatively limited thus far, the TOS-1 has potential for serious HR [human rights] violations, especially given RUS use history (e.g., Chechnya).”

Russian forces have launched coordinated missile and artillery attacks on Ukrainian cities since the conflict began two weeks ago.

As the world watched events unfold with shock and horror after Mr Putin’s announcement of the invasion, world leaders were quick to condemn the attack and imposed heavy economic sanctions against Russia as a punishment and a deterrent from further action.

As many as 516 Ukrainians have since been killed, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, while more than 2m people have been forced to flee the country for sanctuary in neighbouring states like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.

Mr Putin originally branded his campaign against the free democratic state a “special military operation” intended to “de-Nazify” and “de-militarise” Ukraine, a nonsense claim, but has since been forced to rethink his approach in response to the courageous fightback staged by the Ukrainian military and its citizens under the leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky, who has found himself an unlikely resistance hero in the eyes of the world, refusing to leave Kyiv and rallying foreign governments to punish Russia for its actions.

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