An interior ministry sapper collects mines on a mine field after recent battles in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: AP)
WASHINGTON: The United States says it will provide $89 million to help clear land mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordinance planted by Russian forces as part of the Kremlin’s five-and-a-half-month-long invasion of Ukraine.
The aid package, announced Tuesday by the State Department, will help fund, train, and equip approximately 100 de-mining teams over the next year as they take on what officials described as a massive problem plaguing at least 160,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory, including 10% of Ukraine’s farmland.
“This is a challenge that Ukraine will face for decades,” an official told reporters Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the State Department.
The official further compared Russia’s use of mines and explosives to the scorched earth playbook used by terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“This horrific use of improvised explosive devices by Russia’s forces is reminiscent of ISIS tactics in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS terrorists sought to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible & make people afraid to return home,” the official said.
“As Russia’s forces retreated from northern Ukraine, they had booby traps and improvised explosive devices in food facilities, car trunks, washing machines, doorways, hospital beds and even the bodies of those killed by the invasion,” the official said.
“Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that Russia’s forces deliberately hid explosives in toys and shiny objects that attract children’s attention.”
The $89 million will be taken from both the State Department Fiscal Year 2022 budget, as well as from a series of supplemental funding bills passed by Congress earlier this year.
The money will not go directly to the government of Ukraine but will be paid out over time to non-governmental organizations, contractors and other de-mining specialists, who will then work alongside Ukraine’s existing de-mining teams.
“While we’re announcing our intent to provide this assistance as quickly as possible, it is going to take a little bit of time because that training process is iterative,” the State Department official said.
Details on the training, including the precise location, are still being worked out, and U.S. officials are also in contact with allies about providing additional assistance.
A report by Human Rights Watch this past June, cited by the State Department, accused Russia of using seven types of anti-personnel landmines in Ukraine.
Anti-personnel mines, triggered by the proximity to or contact from a person, are banned under the 1997 Ottawa Convention.
Neither the U.S. nor Russia are signatories to the treaty. But U.S. President Joe Biden announced last month the U.S. would restrict its use of land mines, using them only to aid in the defense of South Korea from North Korea.
As part of previous security assistance packages to Ukraine, the U.S. has provided Claymore anti-personnel munitions.
U.S. officials have said, however, that the Claymores in question have been configured to be consistent with the regulations set out by the Ottawa Convention.
For now, U.S. officials are expressing hope that the new assistance can amplify Ukraine’s existing de-mining efforts.
The State Department said Ukrainian teams already have cleared about 160,000 unexploded mines, ordinances and other devices.
And as new teams are trained, equipped, and sent in, the hope is that Ukraine and the U.S. can also get a better understanding of Russia’s strategy.
“We don’t have a lot of holistic data on what the patterns look like, specifically how those mines may have been laid,” the State Department official said in response to a question from VOA.
“It’s difficult to say at this point in time, really, what the logic was behind doing what they’ve done and continue to do,” the official added. “From what we are seeing, they [mines] have been used extensively in civilian areas. … The assumption is it would impede Russia from coming back potentially just as much as it would impede civilians from going home.”