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Ukraine accuses Russia of dumping white phosphorous on Snake Island after its withdrawal.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military accused Russia of dumping incendiary white phosphorus on Snake Island on Friday, a day after Moscow forces withdrew from the strategic rocky outcrop in the southwestern Black Sea. which is key to the Kremlin’s war goals.

Control of the island, a tiny speck of land 20 miles off the coast of Odessa that has played an outsized role during the war, is vital to control of the Black Sea, including important shipping lanes. Some observers speculated that the attack was a move by Russia to destroy equipment it had abandoned on the island so that it would not fall into Ukrainian hands.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister who heads the Center for Defense Strategies, a Kyiv think tank, on Saturday described the attacks as “strange,” because according to a video released by the Ukrainian military, he said, it appeared that “most of the shots missed.

He also said the use of white phosphorus seemed strange given that Ukrainian personnel were not believed to be on Snake Island at the time of the attack. He said that he believed Russia had attacked the island “to complicate any Ukrainian presence there.”

White phosphorus, which produces a thick white smoke and smells like garlic, can melt deep into meat when the phosphorus lands on skin, causing severe burns. While controversial, it is not considered a chemical weapon because it causes damage by burning at high temperatures rather than because of its toxic properties.

Although Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that its forces had withdrawn from Snake Island in a “goodwill gesture,” the withdrawal came after continued Ukrainian attacks, including with newly arrived powerful Western weapons, on the island and on the ships they sought to supply. it’s.

On Saturday morning, Ukraine’s top military official Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said two raids by Russian Su-30 fighter jets flying from the Crimean peninsula the previous day had dropped phosphorus bombs on the island, known in Ukrainian as like Zminy. “The leadership of the armed forces of the Russian Federation does not even adhere to his own statements, which declare a ‘goodwill gesture,'” General Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram social media application.

Ukraine also described Russian missile strikes that killed at least 21 people in southern Ukraine’s Odessa region on Friday as a “retaliation” for the Russian withdrawal from Snake Island. “This was an act of revenge for the successful liberation of Snake Island,” Yevhen Yenin, the first deputy minister of internal affairs, said in an interview with The New York Times on Friday.

The Ukrainians have accused Russia of using white phosphorous bombs several times during the war.

In April, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Russia of using phosphorus bombs “against residential districts and civilian infrastructure.” And in mid-May, images circulated of what was believed to be white phosphorus in the sky over the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, during the last few weeks of pitched battles as the Russian military tried to force soldiers inside the plant to surrender. Neither of those claims was independently verified.

White phosphorous munitions are considered legitimate when used to mask troop movements and mark targets, but their use can be a violation of international law when targeting civilian areas.

Kim Victory Y roger cohen contributed report.

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