According to the current nuclear doctrine of Russia, is the transfer/usage of shells containing depleted uranium considered as a nuclear attack on Russia? Technologically, can it be considered as a radiological weapon or dirty bomb? I am not interested in what Putin or Medvedev say on the TV, but the official Russian doctrine. Is any specific countermeasure for such a weapon mentioned in it? If they interpret it as an attack with a dirty bomb, let's say, via a political decision, what are the countermeasures according to the doctrine?

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    Asking us to speculate on what their response will be is off limit. But they can't privately consider it to be a dirty bomb, unless they count their own doctrine and gear as using dirty bombs. DU are somewhat "edgy" and "special" weapons, but they remain very much conventional, legal, weapons. Hence any non-conventional response on the part of RU would put it on even shakier footing. However, the PR advantages of playing up supposed nuclear attributes of DU ammo - i.e. "you don't understand, we're the victims here!" - is certainly something the Kremlin can, and is, doing. No surprise. Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 19:18
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    Do understand that "depleted uranium" is sometimes used as a substitute for lead in "conventional" ammunition. Uranium is about the same weight as lead and is, in some cases, a little easier to form into bullets, etc. It also makes bullets which fragment into damaging pieces more effectively.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 0:41
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    Depleted uranium is the opposite of a dirty bomb. It's less radioactive and less able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction than the uranium they dug out of the ground. It's called depleted because it's what's left over after they extracted the uranium isotope needed for nuclear reactor and weapon use.
    – user71659
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 1:10
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    @HotLicks: the more technical term en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staballoy Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 10:10
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    @AdamGyenge A dirty bomb is one designed to spread radioativity (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_bomb). DU is explictly designed to be less radioactivity (that's the Depleted part). Therefore, DU is specifically not a dirty bomb. While there is still some radioactivity, most things are radioactive (including people!) naturally.
    – bharring
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:04

2 Answers 2


Well, to flip the question somewhat, Russia fields the Svinets-2 APFSDS which ...drumroll... holds DU.

Russia has further developed its DU munition. According to an article of TASS news agency (based on a statement of the Russian Ministry of Defense), Russian T-80BV tanks are now to be equipped with such high-penetrating ammunition. The article states that tanks of the T-80BV series got the new gun 2А46М-4 with an improved stabilizer and the loading mechanism for the ammunition 3BM59 Svinets-1 and 3BM60 Svinets-2. The ammunition of the type „Svinets“ (English: „lead“) is a part of Russian arsenal since 1991: „Svinets-1“ has a uranium-tungsten carbide core and „Svinets-2“ uses depleted uranium.

More techy info (pdf):

But, let's get it from the horse's mouth, (2018), Russia’s upgraded T-80BV tank to feature capability of firing depleted uranium shells - Military & Defense - TASS:

The information that one of the shells has the depleted uranium core was confirmed to TASS by military expert, Editor-in-Chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland journal Viktor Murakhovsky. "It has the alloy of the depleted uranium and tungsten," he said, adding that the open sources mentioned it as "the Material B."

The use of depleted uranium ammunition does not violate any international treaties, the expert said.

To bring this back to the question. DU ammunition, is very much part of Russia's conventional weapons doctrine, since they deploy it in that role themselves (DU is used for its ballistic and armor penetration properties, not because of "nuclear stuff").

How they will react to the use of NATO-supplied DU shells can't be answered at this point since it would be purely speculative. Consider this another one of the Kremlin's red lines, for whatever that is worth. However, they will have a hard time convincing anyone sitting on the fence of their good faith if they retaliate with nuclear/chemical weapons because of it: DU is considered as conventional, if controversial, armaments by most countries, including themselves. Not as "dirty bombs".

Also, keep in mind that, while countries may have contingency plans to handle dirty bomb events, those would, I assume, typically be concerned with terrorist attacks. Dirty bombs don't make all that much sense in the context of high intensity conventional war, so expecting "doctrine" covering those circumstances, and us knowing about it, is unrealistic.

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    BTW, both the US and the USSR researched and tested prototypes of such "dirty bomb" weapons (more properly called radiological weapons [RW]) in the 1950s, but concluded they were pointless/inferior [next] to chemical or nuclear [explosion] weapons for area denial doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00391 The two countries then even proposed a draft to ban RWs in the late 1970s, but "Notwithstanding agreement between Moscow and Washington, however, the initiative foundered over scope and definitional issues, and because of the low priority most delegations attached to the subject." Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 19:35
  • How they will react to the use of NATO-supplied DU shells can't be answered... - RT has an article EU warns of response to Belarus nuclear move that answers this: Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed on Saturday that tactical nuclear weapons will arrive in Belarus as early as this summer. Putin said that he made the decision after the UK announced it would transfer toxic depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine, a move he described as “absolute recklessness.”
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 19:49
  • First, how they'd react couldn't be answered when the question was asked: your article is more recent. Second, it still can't be answered: stationing nukes in Belarus does not change things all that much. Germany hosts US nukes under much the same terms. It's a political message, but that's about it: a real reaction would involve some form of military escalation by Russia and that's an entirely different kettle of fish. We'll see it when if/when it happens. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 0:14
  • The answer is quite clear - it's both a threat and a message. Along with Finland's ratification of NATO membership and UK willingness to supply DU weaponry Russia is sending a very political message to NATO that Russia is very prepared to use the nuclear option if they continue to supply Ukraine with more lethal weapons to prolong the war or diminish Russia's military capability. This is bound to make Europe more jittery.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 4:38

It doesn't matter what their official policy is. It only matters what they try to sell to the rest of the world.

They showed their little kidnapped children to try and sway the world into thinking they are the good guys. The ICC slapped Putin with war crimes. PR message gone terribly wrong :-D. Does this seem like a rational stance?

Why would they not portray DU shells as a nuclear attack to justify their own nuclear response? Too often we get hung up in the words people say and official written policies because we feel like they are being rational and they can be reasoned with. They've been attacking Ukraine for more than 12 months for no rational reason. Why do they need one to justify an escalation?

Just like the US attacked Korea and Vietnam to "deter communism" and overthrew countless Latin governments for the same reason. Those weren't rational decisions nor rationally justified. But the fed the US public their "rational" justification (if they even let them know it was going on).

The question misses the point because it assumes Russia is doing this for rational reasons. And they aren't. Maybe they feel like they are being rational, but so did the US. But clearly to a neutral 3rd party both aggressors were out of their mind.

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