Western powers fear Russia is setting the stage for chemical warfare

Britain and the United States fear Russia is preparing the ground to use a chemical weapon in Ukraine after Kremlin officials alleged without solid evidence that the United States was supporting a biological weapons program in the country .

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Russia had made “false claims regarding alleged US bioweapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine,” and added that the allegations had been taken up in Beijing.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims and China has apparently endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia possibly using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or creating a false flag operation in them. using,” she tweeted. .

His comments came after Western officials told a briefing “we have good reason to be concerned about the possible use of unconventional weapons” by Russia, reflecting the experience of using chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war.

The concern arose in part because the Russian Foreign Ministry pledged to “set the scene” by making “false flag claims” about a biological weapons program operating inside Ukraine.

Biological weapons

Earlier Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia had documents showing that the United States had supported a biological weapons program in Ukraine, involving plague, cholera and anthrax. Washington and kyiv have both denied the claims, which Psaki called “absurd”.

In addition, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused the “Ukrainian nationalists” of having prepared a “provocation” with chemical weapons in a village northwest of Kharkiv. The plan was to falsely accuse Russian forces of using chemical weapons, the ministry added.

“Russia has a habit of blaming the West for the very violations that Russia itself is committing,” Psaki tweeted. “All of this is an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its new premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine.”

Western officials have repeatedly issued warnings about Russia’s possible use of particularly deadly weapons in the past two weeks, such as thermobaric vacuum bombs that cause severe harm to human bodies due to the intensity of their explosions.

These high-profile warnings from the west are as much designed to have a deterrent effect as they are based on any assessment that these weapons will actually be used.

But Russia has shown an apparent willingness to target civilians in Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv and Mariupol as its initial invasion has been slow to make progress.

Direct attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure are considered war crimes. The development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons are prohibited by an international treaty signed by 193 countries.

Chemical weapons have nevertheless been used on at least 17 occasions during Syria’s civil war, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has accused the Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad of be the source of several attacks.

In recent years, however, Russia has sought to deny that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons – and in April 2018, without supporting evidence, accused Britain of being behind a chlorine attack in Douma which killed 40 people.

But the fact that the chemical weapons involved were delivered by airstrikes led the OPCW to conclude that the Syrian Air Force was responsible.

Ukrainian resistance

Western officials say Russia’s military advance has been “very slow” in recent days, due to stronger than expected Ukrainian resistance and poor planning and logistics from Moscow. But they admit that Russian forces are gradually advancing and trying to “tighten the noose” around kyiv, the capital.

One official said he believed the Russian military was “regaining its position and trying to learn lessons” as its forces advanced towards Kyiv from the east while remaining in position northwest of the city.

An attack on Kyiv would be “absolutely horrible”, but no deadline has been set for whether it would be possible.

Earlier this week, the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said it believed Russian forces were gradually preparing for an attack on kyiv “within the next 24 to 96 hours”.

But it remains unclear whether Moscow can concentrate enough force to launch an attack on the capital, which had three million inhabitants before the war. – Guardian