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Explained: What is the controversial ‘Butterfly Mine’ Russia has allegedly used in Ukraine?

Russia is likely to have deployed anti-personnel mines to deter freedom of movement along its defensive lines in the Donbas. What are these mines and what kind of damage can they afflict? Why are they specially dangerous for children?

The PFM-1 ‘Butterly Mine’ or Green Parrot. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

The UK Ministry of Defence, in its intelligence assessment of the ongoing war in Ukraine, has and sounded an alarm on the possible use of PFM-1 series ‘Butterfly Mines’ by the Russian military in Donetsk and Kramatorsk. What are these mines and what kind of damage can they afflict?

What is the intelligence assessment put out by UK ?

As per an intelligence bulletin put out by UK Ministry of Defence a few days back on the security situation in Ukraine, Russia is likely to have deployed anti-personnel mines to deter freedom of movement along its defensive lines in the Donbas.

As per the bulletin, these mines have the potential to inflict widespread casualties amongst both the military and the local civilian population.

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“In Donetsk and Kramatorsk, Russia has highly likely attempted employment of PFM-1 and PFM-1S scatterable anti-personnel mines. Commonly called the ‘butterfly mine’, the PFM-1 series are deeply controversial, indiscriminate weapons.

PFM-1s were used to devastating effect in the Soviet-Afghan War where they allegedly maimed high numbers of children who “mistook them for toys,” the bulletin said.

It added that it is highly likely that the Soviet-era stock being used by Russia will have degraded over time and is now unreliable and unpredictable. This poses a threat to both the local population and humanitarian mine clearance operations, the bulletin says.

What is the ‘Butterfly Mine’ and why is it called so?

The PFM-1 and PFM-1S are two kinds of anti-personnel landmines that are commonly referred to as ‘Butterfly mines’ or ‘Green Parrots’. These names are derived from the shape and colour of the mines. The main difference between the PFM-1 and PFM-1S mine is that the latter comes with a self destruction mechanism which gets activated within one to 40 hours.

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The ‘Butterfly mine’ has earned a reputation for being particularly attractive to children because it looks like a coloured toy. It is very sensitive to touch and just the act of picking it up can set it off. Because of the relatively lesser explosive packed in this small mine, it often injures and maims the handler rather than killing them. These mines are also difficult to detect because they are made of plastic and can evade metal detectors.

These mines can be deployed in the field of action through several means, which include being dropped from helicopters or through ballistic dispersion using artillery and mortar shells. These mines glide to the ground without exploding and later explode on coming in contact. Since these mines were green in colour when they were first put to use they also earned the name ‘Green Parrots’.

How are these mines associated with Soviet Union and Afghanistan?

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By some estimates more than a million ‘Butterfly mines’ litter Afghanistan and were airdropped in valleys and mountain passes to impede the movement of the Afghan Mujahideen. More than 30,000 Afghans are believed to have been victims of these mines and a large number of children were among the casualties.

What are the technical specifications of this mine?

The PFM series mines are moulded in polythene plastic and have two wings, one of which is heavier than the other. The thicker wing is the pressure activation for the main fuse which is contained in the central body. The thinner wing acts as a stabiliser for the mine when it is air-dropped, thus giving it the name ‘butterfly’. As per data available on the mine, a pressure exceeding 5 kg will activate the mine which contains 40g of explosive.

The rapid means of deployment of the mine and the fact that it can be indiscriminately scattered to impede the advance of an enemy makes it an attractive option for a field commander, regardless of the danger that these can pose for non-combatants living in the area.

Are these kind of mines allowed by international law?

The anti personal mines are banned by international convention on land lines but Russia and Ukraine are not signatories to it. However, there is a 1996 Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons-the Landlines Protocol to which Russia and Ukraine are signatories.

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In the ongoing conflict, both countries have accused each other of having used these mines, since both posses them in sufficient numbers. Allegations and counter-allegations of the use of these mines have been made in Mariupol, Kharkiv and now Donetsk.

First published on: 10-08-2022 at 08:17:24 pm
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