Joe Biden’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions risks destroying US-Russian relations completely, a top Kremlin diplomat has warned.
At the beginning of July, the White House announced a US$800m (£611m) million package of military aid for Kyiv.
For the first time the US included cluster bombs in the new deal, provoking outrage both in- and outside of Russia.
Putin reacted with fury, promising retaliation, while human rights organisations in the West condemned the move.
Security experts believe cluster bombs could be a game changer on the battlefield, allowing Ukraine’s army to breach heavily-fortified Russian defences.
In a sign the Kremlin is increasingly worried about their impact on the war, Moscow’s top US diplomat lashed out at the White House for delivering the lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Anatoly Antonov, Putin’s ambassador to the US, branded the move as “anti-Russian” in an interview for Channel 1.
“As far as Russia-US relations are concerned, they are practically non-existent at this point,” he raged.
“Naturally, the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine deals a serious blow to those remains, or pieces, of the Russian-US ties.
“I would like to tell you that we will certainly take this anti-Russian step on the part of [US President Joe Biden’s] administration into account when working with Washington.”
Russia’s president has threatened to use his own stock pile of cluster munitions in retaliation, saying his army had not yet deployed the weapons despite a “certain shortage of munitions at some point”.
However, Human Rights Watch has claimed the Russians have used cluster munitions since their invasion in February 2022.
They said the munitions had already inflicted hundreds of civilian casualties and damaged homes, hospitals and schools.
Cluster bombs work by scattering large numbers of tiny bomblets over a wide area, which are supposed to implode on impact.
They are highly controversial, as many of the bomblets can fail to explode, presenting a long lasting lethal danger to civilians, particularly children, once the fighting is over.
Russian cluster munitions reportedly have a “dud rate” of 40 per cent, meaning large numbers remain a hazard on the ground, whereas the average is believed to be close to 20 per cent.
The Pentagon estimates its own cluster bomblets have a dud rate of less than 3 per cent.
A White House official said the Ukrainians were using the new weapons “effectively”, as they seek to dislodge concentrations of Russian soldiers from their defensive positions.
National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “They are using them appropriately.
“They are actually having an impact on Russia’s defensive formations and Russia’s defensive manoeuvring. I think I can leave it at that.”
Over the last few days, Kyiv appears to have intensified its attacks on the southern front, and has reportedly made new breakthroughs.
Russia’s Defence Ministry described a “massive” attack and fierce battles south of the settlement of Orikhiv, but claimed it had been repelled.
However, the Russian military blogger Rybar said the Ukrainian army had managed to penetrate defensive lines “in three areas … [amid] fierce battles.”
He reported that the new attacks involved more than 80 armoured vehicles, including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and combat vehicles.