War in Ukraine: in the wake of the Russian army, sophisticated anti-personnel mines

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POM-3 anti-personnel mines were identified by the NGO Human Rights Watch around the city of Kharkiv at the end of March. This is the first documented case of the use of mines since the start of the war in Ukraine. Above all, it is a very recent sophisticated model.

Russian soldiers begin to leave mines behind as their troops retreat or reposition in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sounded the alarm on Sunday April 3, saying that the Russian army was leaving anti-personnel mines around “destroyed houses, abandoned equipment and even in the bodies of those who were killed”.

Claims about the massive use of this type of weapon that could not be independently verified on the ground, stresses the AP press agency. On the other hand, the existence of anti-personnel mines left in Ukraine by Russians has already been verified by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Mines with seismic sensors

The non-governmental organization received photos of these deadly devices taken in the region of the city of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine. “They were sent to us by Ukrainian deminers on March 28,” said Fred Abraham, associate director of programs for Human Rights Watch, contacted by France 24. The pictures were then submitted for verification to independent experts working with HRW.

This is the first documented case of the use of anti-personnel mines since the beginning of the war of invasion in Ukraine launched by Moscow on February 24. Russia, which is not a signatory to the 1997 Convention on the prohibition of anti-personnel mines unlike Ukraine, is used to using this type of weapon during the conflicts in which it participates. “We weren’t surprised because wherever Russian soldiers go, whether it’s Syria, Libya or elsewhere, they leave mines behind,” said Mark Hiznay, associate director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch. , contacted by France 24. “We found traces of anti-personnel mines of Soviet or Russian origin in 60 countries”, specifies Fred Abraham.

But those that have been located around Kharkiv are of a new kind. These are POM-3 mines which “were manufactured in 2021 and which had been in development for five years”, details Mark Hiznay. This new pattern can trigger even before a victim steps on it. It has sensors that can detect movement nearby and are triggered at a certain distance.

This mechanism, as such, is nothing new. “These are seismic sensors that have been used on mines since the 1970s, and in particular by the Americans during the Vietnam War. They are not only used to detect movement, but can also be configured to trigger the mine only when a certain weight is detected, which allows, for example in theory, to explode only when a military truck passes and not a civilian car”, explains Alexandre Vautravers, expert in security and armament and editor-in-chief of the ” Swiss Military Review” (RMS), contacted by France 24.

But POM-3s take murderous sophistication much further. When triggered, these mines leap above the ground and explode, fragmenting within a perimeter of 16 meters around them, specifies the CAT-UXO military news site (“Collective awareness to UXO”, an acronym for the Unexploded Ordnance, or “submerged explosive devices”), which documented this model of Russian antipersonnel mines.

Demining made more difficult and dangerous

In other words, they are munitions that have been developed to explode at the level of the victims’ heads and cause damage over a much wider area than traditional anti-personnel mines.

That’s not all. These mines are not placed manually. They are sent in clusters of dozens from rocket launchers over a distance of 15 kilometers. The POM-3 are also equipped with a self-destruct system which can be triggered remotely and allows the explosion of the device to be programmed eight hours or 24 hours later, can we read on the CAT-UXO site .

Finally, the POM-3 would be able “to tell the difference between an animal and a human being”, writes the New York Times. It is in any case “what the manufacturer affirms on its commercial documentation, arguing that there are algorithms and on-board artificial intelligence which make it possible to make the distinction”, notes Mark Hiznay. For Alexandre Vautravers, “it’s purely a marketing discourse, there are no anti-personnel mines capable of doing that”.

Even if these mines are not as “intelligent” as the Russians claim, “it may seem surprising to use such sophisticated devices”, underlines Mark Hiznay. Perhaps “they have nothing else left as mines”, notes this expert from Human Rights Watch.

It remains to be seen whether Kharkiv is the only place where the POM-3s have been placed by the Russian army. Their discovery “must in any case push us to intensify our research, especially around other cities in Ukraine from which the Russian army has withdrawn recently, such as kyiv or Mariupol”, notes Fred Abraham of Human Rights Watch.

This is all the more important as this type of anti-personnel mine is more complex to defuse because of its sensors. “At the moment, we don’t have a solution for this type of threat,” says the New York Times James Cowan, director of the HALO Trust, a British NGO that works to clear former conflict areas of leftover explosive devices, such as mines. “It will probably be necessary for a donor to provide us with robots capable of disarming these devices remotely,” he concludes.

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War in Ukraine: in the wake of the Russian army, sophisticated anti-personnel mines

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