Ukraine-Russia war: US claims it has ‘credible information’ Vladimir Putin may use chemical weapons

The US says there’s “a real concern” that Russia may be planning to use chemical agents in Ukraine amid reports it’s already happened. WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS
The United States has “credible information” that Russia “may use … chemical agents” in its offensive to take Mariupol, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says.
Mr Blinken told reporters he was not able to confirm accusations that Moscow has already used chemical weapons in Ukraine.
But he continued: “We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians, as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.”
“We share that information with Ukraine … and we’re in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually is happening, so this is a real concern,” Mr Blinken told reporters.
The world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, says it is “concerned” over reports of the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol.
Western officials have previously expressed concerns that Russia, finding its February 24 invasion of its neighbour grinding into a protracted conflict, could resort to more extreme measures, including chemical weapons.
“Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the people of Mariupol. We are working urgently with partners to verify details,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote on Twitter.
“Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account.”
Ukrainian politician Ivanna Klympush said Russia had used an “unknown substance” in Mariupol and that people were suffering from respiratory failure.
“Most likely chem.weapons!” she tweeted.
On messaging app Telegram, an aide to the Mariupol mayor wrote that a chemical attack “is not currently confirmed”.
“We are waiting for official information from the military,” Petro Andryushchenko wrote.
Earlier, Ukraine’s Azov battalion claimed a Russian drone had dropped a “poisonous substance” on troops and civilians in Mariupol.
The force also claimed that people were experiencing respiratory failure and neurological problems.
“Three people have clear signs of poisoning by warfare chemicals, but without catastrophic consequences,” battalion leader Andrei Biletsky later said in a video message on his own Telegram channel.
He accused the Russians of using the chemical weapons during a strike on the city’s large Azovstal metallurgical plant.
AFP was unable to verify the claims.
A strategic port located along the Sea of Azov, Mariupol has been besieged for weeks and Ukrainian forces are warning of its imminent fall.
US Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on Monday night local time that Washington was aware of reports of a chemical attack in the strategic city, but could not confirm them.
“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” he said.
Senior Donetsk separatist official Eduard Basurin had spoken of the possibility of using chemical weapons against the southern port.
Basurin said the besieging forces could “turn to chemical troops who will find a way to smoke the moles out of their holes,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
Russia has denied committing any war crimes during its military operations in Ukraine.
Russia is poised to take the strategic city of Mariupol and unleash a massive offensive in eastern Ukraine, as fresh diplomatic efforts with Moscow to broker a peace offered little hope of de-escalation.
With the war grinding toward its seventh week, Austria’s leader said he had raised alleged Russian atrocities as he became the first European leader to visit President Vladimir Putin since the invasion began.
Ukraine says more than 1200 bodies have been found in devastated areas around Kyiv, with authorities pursuing “500 suspects” including Mr Putin and other top Russian officials.
Seven bodies were found Monday under the rubble of two multistorey buildings in Borodianka, in the Kyiv region, the state emergency service said, bringing the total to 19.
French investigators arrived in Ukraine to help probe suspected war crimes, as the European Union earmarked 2.5 million euros to the International Criminal Court for future Ukraine cases.
Russia is believed to be trying to connect occupied Crimea and Moscow-backed separatist territories Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas and has laid siege to Mariupol, once a city of more than 400,000 people.
“Today will probably be the last battle, as the ammunition is running out,” the 36th marine brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Facebook.
“It is death for some of us, and captivity for the rest,” the brigade added, saying it had been “pushed back” and “surrounded” by Russian troops.
Appealing to South Korea’s National Assembly for military assistance, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told politicians Russia had “completely destroyed” the city and “burned it to ashes”.
“At least tens of thousands of Mariupol citizens must have been killed,” he said.
Russian forces are turning their focus to the Donbas region in the east, where Mr Zelenskyy said Russian troops were preparing “even larger operations”.

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