Why Russia's use of the TOS-1 heavy flamethrower is so worrisome

The potent weapon poses a huge threat to human life.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Reports have already been circulating of Russia using vacuum bombs on Ukraine's civilians.

Now, it seems the warring nation has another devastating weapon in its arsenal: the TOS-1 heavy flamethrower, according to a Forbes report from Wednesday.

How does it work and is it actually being used? 

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A powerful TOS-1 heavy flamethrower

CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen shared a video on Twitter of a Russian TOS-1 heavy flamethrower making its way south of Belgorod, Pleitgen, about 45 miles (72 km) away from Kharkiv, Ukraine. This weapon can shoot thermobaric rockets mounted on a T-72 tank chassis.

For the uninitiated, thermobaric rockets use up oxygen from the surrounding air to produce a high-temperature explosion of a significantly longer duration than that of a traditional blast. They are so powerful that they can instantaneously vaporize human bodies and destroy the internal organs of anyone nearby.

“They will kill not just in the direct vicinity of the impact,” Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and CIA officer, told Foreign Policy. “It [will] suck the oxygen out of the air and out of the lungs of people nearby. It is horrendous.”

The flamethrowers can also launch incendiary warheads.

A war crime

News of the deadly thermobaric weapons being used by Russia first surfaced on Monday when Ukraine's ambassador to the United States sounded the alarm. At the time, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a press briefing that she had seen reports of the weapons being used but had no absolute confirmation as of yet. "If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime," she had added.

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Western officials had however expressed concern that the weapons might be used as early as Friday, according to the Huffington Post.

“At the moment we’re not seeing the use of those particular weapons. But my fear would be that if they don’t meet the timescales and objectives that they would be indiscriminate in the use of violence and they don’t adhere to the same principles of necessity and proportionality and rule of law that Western forces do," said one Western official.

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