Kyiv, Ukraine. The Ukrainian army accused Russia of dumping incendiary white phosphorus on Zmeiny Ostrov on Friday, the day after Moscow’s troops retreated from a strategically important rocky outcropping in the southwestern Black Sea that is key to the Kremlin’s military goals.
Control of the island, a tiny patch of land 20 miles off the coast of Odessa, which played a huge role throughout the war, is vital to control of the Black Sea, including important shipping lanes. Some observers have speculated that the strike was an attempt by Russia to destroy equipment it had left on the island to prevent it from falling into Ukrainian hands.
Andriy Zahorodniuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister who heads the Center for Defense Strategies, a think tank in Kyiv, on Saturday described the strikes as “weird” because, according to a video released by the Ukrainian military, it looked like “most of the shots were missed.”
He also said that the use of white phosphorus seemed odd given that Ukrainian personnel were not on Serpent Island at the time of the attack. He said he believed Russia had struck the island “to make it difficult for any Ukrainian presence there.”
White phosphorus, which produces thick white smoke and has a garlicky odor, can melt deeply when phosphorus comes in contact with the skin and cause severe burns. Despite the controversy, it is not considered a chemical weapon because it causes harm by burning at high temperatures, not because of its toxic properties.
Although the Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that its forces had been withdrawn from Serpents’ Island as a “goodwill gesture,” the retreat came after continuous Ukrainian attacks, including with powerful newly arrived Western weapons, on the island and ships attempting to supply It.
On Saturday morning, a senior Ukrainian military official, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said two sorties of Russian Su-30 fighter jets flying from the Crimean peninsula had dropped phosphorus bombs over an island known in Ukrainian as Serpentine the day before. “The leadership of the armed forces of the Russian Federation does not even adhere to their own statements declaring a “goodwill gesture,” General Zaluzny wrote on the Telegram app.
Ukraine also characterized the Russian missile strikes that killed at least 21 people in the Odessa region in southern Ukraine on Friday,”retribution“For the retreat of the Russians from the Serpent Island. “It was an act of revenge for the successful liberation of Zmeiny Island,” First Deputy Interior Minister Yevgeny Yenin told The New York Times on Friday.
Ukrainians accused Russia on several occasions of using white phosphorus bombs during the war.
In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of using phosphorus bombs “against residential areas and civilian infrastructure.” And in mid-May, images circulated what was thought to be white phosphorus in the skies over the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol during the last weeks of heavy fighting as the Russian military tried to force the soldiers inside the plant to surrender. None of these claims have been independently verified.
White phosphorus munitions are considered legal when used to camouflage troop movements and mark targets, but their use can be a violation of international law when the target is civilian areas.
Victoria Kim as well as Roger Cohen made a report.