Cluster munitions, biological weapons and explosive projectiles above a certain weight – all these weapons have one thing in common: according to international humanitarian law, they may not be used in wars. Apparently Russia is not interested in that.

In wars there are rules. And Russia is known for breaking them. Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, torture, raping, executions: the list of Russian atrocities is long. Explosive images went around the world, for example of corpses on the streets of the Kiev suburb of Bucha. Crimes have also been documented in the suburbs of Irpin and Borodyanka (detailed documentation can be found here). Now a first Russian soldier has been sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes in Ukraine. The verdict is not yet final – but it marks the beginning of a process of coming to terms with numerous crimes since the Russian invasion in February.

Human rights organizations as well as UN and EU investigators are involved in investigating the war crimes. In Germany, the Central Office for Combating War Crimes (ZVBK), which is based at the Federal Criminal Police Office, is busy evaluating testimonies as well as image and video material. Journalists are also on the ground investigating reports of war crimes. The British “Guardian” has dealt with the weapons used by Russia. The result: Some are used illegally. An overview:


According to research by British journalists, Russian forces dropped several 250-kilo bombs over Borodyanka north of Kyiv on the night of March 1st. These so-called FAB-250 bombs date back to Soviet times and are actually only intended to be used to attack military targets, enemy fortifications and bunkers. However, no such targets were found in the 13,000-strong settlement of Borodjanka. Instead, the bombs hit five apartment buildings. After the Russian troops withdrew from the region, the invaders left destroyed buildings and many dead. It can be assumed that civilians died as a result of the bombings.

According to information from the “Guardian”, Russia also used the FAB-250 bombs in Bucha and Hostomel. Eight buildings are said to have been destroyed with this weapon and hundreds of people killed. Russia had already used the FAB-250 bombs in the Syrian war in 2015. According to the Guardian, the destroyed houses are similar to those in Bucha, Borodyanka and Hostomel.


Fléchettes are particularly insidious. The “Guardian” reported in April, citing pathologists and coroners on site, of tiny metal darts in the skulls and torsos of dozens of victims. The tiny metal tips, so-called fléchettes, were already used in the world wars and in the Vietnam War and are considered particularly brutal. If they penetrate the body, they change their shape due to the force of the impact or break apart. Two projectiles are created, each with a wound channel that inflicts damage on the victim. However, they do not fall under the Geneva Convention and are still permitted. However, it becomes problematic when the arrow ammunition is used in urban areas and causes civilian casualties.


According to research by the investigative network Bellingcat, evidence of cluster munitions was discovered after the Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region. These are grenades or bombs that release even smaller ammunition. This was discovered on the streets, in civilian facilities and on numerous corpses. In more than 100 countries, this weapon is referred to as a cluster munition according to the Geneva Convention. Exceptions are Russia, the USA and Ukraine. According to the Geneva Convention, the use of cluster munitions is prohibited. Also problematic in this case: Russia has used the weapon in a civilian environment – although the country has denied attacking civilians since the beginning of the war.

Cluster munitions are designed to spread over a wide area. However, not every bomb explodes, which poses an additional risk to civilians. Pictures of cars published by the “Guardian” and which are said to have been checked by experts show the holes characteristic of cluster bombs. Investigators on site confirmed to the British newspaper that numerous civilians in Borodyanka were killed by cluster bombs.

Which weapons are prohibited?

As cruel as it sounds, civilians die in wars – tolerance for collateral damage is relatively high. However, international law serves to reduce the suffering caused in conflicts. This also regulates the use of weapons. In the first contracts, which were concluded in 1868, the use of explosive projectiles weighing less than 400 grams was recorded. According to the Geneva Protocol, the use of poison gases and bacteriological weapons has been outlawed since 1925. This was expanded in the early 1970s. According to the Biological and Chemical Weapons Convention, the manufacture, acquisition, stockpiling and use of such weapons is prohibited. They must be destroyed.

Since 1980, weapons that have been wounded by splinters and can no longer be detected in the human body by means of X-rays may not be used. This means that incendiary weapons, land mines and booby traps can only be used to a limited extent. Finally, in 2008, a convention on cluster munitions followed, which 107 countries ratified. Despite their destructive power, nuclear weapons are not prohibited under international law. However, the International Court of Justice has declared their use a violation of the “general principles and provisions of international humanitarian law”.

Sources: “The Guardian”, “Der Spiegel”, International Committee of the Red Cross,