Russia moves thermobaric warheads that INCINERATE targets into Ukraine while world's attention is on Syria
German Chancellor Merkel and Vladimir Putin at the center
hosted by French president Hollande at the Elysee Palace.
Continue reading more about this weapon, and watch Russian video of it in action.
Russia has moved a new weapons system equipped with thermobaric warheads into rebel-held Ukraine while the world's attention remains on its airstrikes in Syria, international monitors say.
This Russian Tank-Mounted Rocket Launcher Can Incinerate 8 City Blocks - The pure fury of the TOS-1A Heavy Flamethrower System.
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The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - which is monitoring a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine - reports its monitors have seen a mobile TOS-1 Buratino system for the first time.
The Buratino features thermobaric warheads which spread a flammable liquid around a target and then ignite it. It can destroy several city blocks in one strike, causing indiscriminate damage.
Only Russia produces the system and it was not exported to Ukraine before the conflict broke out, according to IHS Jane's Group and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Its sighting is possible evidence of Moscow's ongoing interest in Ukraine even as it focuses on Syria.
The OSCE's findings are embarrassing for the Kremlin, which has turned down its rhetoric on Ukraine and shifted attention to Syria, where it has begun a series of deadly air strikes.
They come as President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Paris to speak with the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine in a revived European push to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.
Putin was pictured shaking hands with French President Francois Hollande as he arrived at the capital's Elysee Palace this morning ahead of the long-awaited summit, which has been overshadowed by international concerns about Russia's military intervention in Syria this week.
Russian air strikes in Homs province, Syria
Aftermath: This image, posted on the Twitter account of Syria Civil Defence - also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue group - shows the aftermath of one of the airstrikes in Talbiseh, western Syria
It remains to be seen whether he will be quizzed on the Buratino sighting in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian defence ministry did not reply to written questions from Reuters about whether Ukrainian rebels were supplied with the lethal weapons system or where it had been exported.
Russia denies its military is even in Ukraine. But there have been numerous signs that Moscow backed the rebels with troops and equipment.
Last year, reporters spotted two burnt-out tanks which military experts identified as Russian army tanks in rebel-held territory.
Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine, told Reuters by phone that monitors had spotted the Buratino at a rebel training area in the village of Kruhly.
'We saw the weapon on that training ground,' Hug said.
'Both sides agreed a year ago to withdraw heavy weaponry from the line of contact. Having them near the line of contact is of course a concern as this weapon should be in storage and not be used.'
Hug said the weapons system was 'indiscriminate and very destructive'.
French president Hollande welcomes
German Chancellor Merkel to the Palace
In good spirits. Both are 61 years old.
Meanwhile, the Popular Mechanics website called TOS-1 'hell on earth' for anyone it targeted.
According to IHS Jane's and the Stockholm Institute's unofficial arms transfers database, Russia has only exported the system to Azerbaijan, Iraq and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine said it did not possess the Buratino.
'We have not got them and we have never had it in service,' Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, told Reuters.
'The Russian army has it. It was used against us in the area of Donetsk airport.'
The Ukrainian defence ministry said on its website in March that the separatists had used seven TOS-1 Buratino systems and that one of them had been destroyed by its forces.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 8,000 people since it flared in mid-April 2014.
But violence has ebbed in recent weeks to its lowest level since a ceasefire was signed in February, even though Western diplomats say the 12-point peace plan is far from fulfilled.
Rebel leaders this week signed an agreement to extend a withdrawal of weapons to include tanks and smaller weapons systems.
A rebel representative said on Wednesday the agreement could mean an end to the conflict.
Popular Mechanics: When the Soviets were thinking about landwar in the late 1970s, they struck upon idea: How about strapping as many rockets as possible to a T-72 tank chassis, and using it on the battlefield? Thus, the TOS-1 Heavy Flamethrower System was conceived.
If you're confused by the "flamethrower" bit in that designation, it's understandable.
The TOS-1 (and its more modern variant, the TOS-1A) look nothing like traditional flamethrowers, either handheld or tank-mounted, used in World War II and other conflicts.
Instead, the TOS-1 is designated a flamethrower because, in addition to traditional incendiary rockets, it can also fire thermobaric rockets.
Thermobaric rockets are a "fuel-air" weapon system. When fired, the rockets disperse a cloud of flammable liquid into the air around the target, and then ignite it.
The results are devastating—not only is the explosion significantly longer and the shockwave significantly hotter and stronger than a conventional warhead, but all the oxygen in the near vicinity is also consumed, creating a partial vacuum.
This makes them horrifying weapons to use against infantry and entrenched personnel in bunkers and caves—exactly what the TOS-1 was designed for.
Victims typically die either from the intense pressure of the initial blast, or suffocate as their lungs rupture in the vacuum afterwards. It's an incredibly unpleasant way to go.
It was first used in combat during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1988, but didn't make its public debut until more than a decade later, during the Second Chechen War in 1999.
Lately, the Iraqi army has used it during its fight against ISIS.
The downsides of the TOS-1 are that it requires two support vehicles for carrying extra rockets and reloading, and that it has to get relatively close to its target before opening fire.
But once the TOS-1A is in range, a full salvo of its 24 rockets will make a rectangle 200 meter by 400 meters—a bit more than 8 city blocks—hell on earth for anyone caught inside.
More destructive individual fuel-air bombs exist; the US military's GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb creates creates a shockwave so powerful it can kill people up to 1.7 miles away, and the Russians built a "Father of All Bombs" reportedly four times more powerful than that, which would make it the most powerful non-nuclear warhead in the world.
But when it comes to land-based weapons systems, its hard to find something scarier that the TOS-1A.