Ukraine’s Allies Fear Russian Forces Might Use Chemical Weapons in War

Ukraine's Allies Fear Russian Forces Might Use Chemical Weapons in War Ukraine's Allies Fear Russian Forces Might Use Chemical Weapons in War

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By Jay Clemons | Tuesday, 12 April 2022 07:39 PM

As Day 47 of the Russia-Ukraine war rears its ugly head, a new wrinkle in the military conflict could have certain world leaders on edge.

Namely, would Russia ever use chemical weapons on Ukraine?

According to The Hill, Ukrainian troops in Mariupol complained of respiratory distress after Russian drones dropped some sort of noxious fumes on the soldiers, prompting fears of a possible chemical attack.

"We're not in a position to confirm anything. I don't think the Ukrainians are, either," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.

Blinken's media update aligns with U.S. officials reportedly confirming they don't have any investigators on the ground in Ukraine.

According to Blinken, however, the U.S. has already shared "credible" information with Ukraine and other allies that Russia may be mixing "riot control" agents, such as combining tear gas with chemical agents, as part of its siege on Mariupol.

"This is a real concern. It's a concern we've had before the aggression started [on Feb. 24]. I pointed to the possibility that these kinds of weapons would be used, and it's something we're very, very focused on," Blinken said.

White House officials have previously warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would face a "severe price" if any chemical attacks were carried out on Ukraine.

The senior officials, however, stopped short of characterizing the warnings as a "red line" — unlike what then-President Barack Obama relayed to Syria in 2012.

"We don’t like 'red lines' around here, so I'm not going to use that phrasing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on March 14.

At a NATO press conference last month, President Joe Biden said the U.S. and its military alliance would respond in a firm way if Russia invoked chemical weapons into its battle strategies.

The president declined to go into specifics, though.

"The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use," Biden said.

On Tuesday, the Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons said it was aware of "unconfirmed reports of chemical weapons" in Ukraine, and that it will continually monitor the moves of Russian forces.

Russia's war with Ukraine has already produced a number of war atrocities, according to Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

From Cancian's perspective, the "atrocities" began with targeted killing, torture, kidnapping and rape of civilians.

"The problem is there really isn't a whole lot more they can do," he said. "They've sanctioned just about everybody. Short of actually using troops on the ground in some way, there's just not a whole lot more they can do. So it would put the U.S. in a very tough situation."

"It's up to the Ukrainians to respond in a way that we can help," said William Taylor, former ambassador to Ukraine and vice president of the Russia and Europe program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in a recent interview with The Hill.

Taylor added: "We ought to provide every bit of intelligence that we have about the military unit — there's a [Russian] chemical weapons unit apparently in Mariupol that is getting ready to — if it hasn’t already used these weapons, and that ought to be targeted."

The Hill reports that a core group of national security officials, bearing the moniker Tiger Team, have been busy sketching out a combination of possible responses for the U.S. and its allies — if the initial fears of Russia implementing chemical weapons continue to rise.

Biden reportedly brought up these scenarios on his trip to Brussels last month, upon meeting with European leaders and allies with NATO.

Taylor said the Biden administration is correct to remain ambiguous over what it views as a red line, allowing more flexibility in possible reactions — none of which can lead to escalating tensions between two nuclear-armed powers.

"I'm afraid one of the lessons from [Syria's chemical attack in 2015], that Putin and [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] took away, is that using chemical weapons works," Taylor said.

"Putin is probably making a calculation that despite Biden's warnings he can do this, it will help him win the war, and the West won't intervene in a significant way."

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