Fears grow over Russian chemical threat to Ukraine

Biden administration officials are sounding the alarm about the threat that Russia will escalate its war on Ukraine with chemical weapons, but refrain from drawing red lines that would involve US military intervention.

Officials have raised the possibility of Russia laying the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack on Ukraine, and experts and world leaders have openly discussed the risk of escalation given Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

“I’m not going to go into speculation,” the White House press secretary said. Jen PsakiJen PsakiHouse Passes Bill Banning Russian Oil Imports, Allowing UK Sanctions to Urge West to ‘Increase Global Pressure on Putin’ Defense & National Security Overnight – US Excluded combat aircraft for Ukraine MORE said during a Thursday briefing when asked what the United States could do in response to such an escalation.

“What we’re saying right now is that they have the capacity and the ability [for a chemical weapons attack]. I’m not going to go into intelligence either. But the president’s intention to send US military to Ukraine against Russia has not changed,” she said.

The White House has been adamant and consistent for weeks that Biden would not allow US troops to be on the ground in Ukraine to fight Russia, arguing that doing so would risk dragging the country into a protracted war and potentially global.

Psaki on Thursday avoided drawing a “red line” that Russia could cross for Biden to reconsider how the United States could increase or change its involvement. This decision may have been deliberate given the criticism the former president faced barack obamaBarack Hussein ObamaFossilized vampire squid named after Biden Voters think Putin wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine under Trump. Logic agrees for Biden to phone family of American detained in Russia MORE for its failure to enforce its so-called “red line” on the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.

The United States and its allies have again imposed economic sanctions on Moscow that the Kremlin has described as an act of war. Such sanctions have not yet deterred Russia, although they clearly cause pain.

Several administration officials on Wednesday cited Russian allegations that the United States was developing biological weapons in Ukraine – which they called “false” and “laughable” – as a possible pretext for Moscow to deploy its own chemical weapons. in Ukraine.

“I think this underlines the concern that we all need to focus on these kinds of issues, where it is possible to use chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against Ukrainians,” the director of the CIA. Guillaume BurneWilliam BurnsOvernight Defense & National Security – US Excludes Fighter Jets For Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security – More Aid Directed To Ukraine Hillicon Valley – Featured By Nokia – Secret Data Collection Program Revealed MORE told lawmakers on Thursday.

“It’s something… is really part of Russia’s playbook, they used these weapons against their own citizens, they at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere; so it’s something we take very seriously.

And a senior defense official told reporters on Thursday that the United States had gathered information that the Russians may be making false claims about American and Ukrainian work in biodefense as a pretext to use chemical agents during an attack. attack.

“We have indications that their public narrative could create the conditions for a false flag event. . . . this could be the actual use of some kind of agents they would blame the Ukrainians and, by association, possibly even the United States, to create, again, an excuse for potentially more aggressive military action or some other way to advance their military interests in Ukraine,” they said.

The biological labs at the center of Russia’s propaganda campaign are, in fact, used for research to help fight pandemics or the spread of pathogens and other health issues, the director of national intelligence said. April HainesApril HainesOvernight Defense & National Security – US Bars Fighter Jets For Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security – More Aid Headed To Ukraine Angry Putin set to ‘double down’ on Ukraine, warn lawmakers told the Senate committee.

She said that Ukraine operates just over a dozen such labs and that the US government has, at least in the past, provided them with assistance “in the context of biosafety”, which it made with a variety of different countries.

“Let’s be clear: we don’t assess that Ukraine is looking for biological weapons or nuclear weapons, which have basically been the propaganda that Russia is putting out,” Haines said.

Despite the threat of an escalation of the conflict from Russia, the United States has been reluctant to take steps that could be seen by the Kremlin as escalation, wary of anything that could trigger more violent attacks on Ukraine. or spill over to NATO countries and attract others. a global conflict.

Russia’s nuclear capabilities have further complicated this issue, as US officials have ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine that would mean shooting down Russian planes and have banned the transfer of fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine.

Haines told senators on Thursday that the intelligence community is closely monitoring any changes in Russia’s strategic nuclear posture, but has so far seen no significant changes, amid Putin’s fears of introducing these weapons on the spot. of battle.

“It’s nothing new,” she said of Russia’s strategic nuclear posture.

But Putin’s unpredictability still worries some experts.

“You never know what someone like Putin, when you back him up against the wall, he’s a bully. He is a dictator, he clearly does not care about human rights and humanitarian issues,” John KellyJohn Francis KellyMOREretired four-star general and former chief of staff at the time-President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House praises new South Korea president, citing ‘ironclad’ alliance RNC pursues Salesforce January 6 panel subpoena Russia’s war on Ukraine upends nuclear talks with Iran MORE, said on CNN. “You back a guy like that up against the wall and don’t leave him out, I think he’ll fall over swinging. And that would include, most likely, the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Moreover, “the world is aware of Russia’s willingness to use chemical agents” and nerve agents, even against its own citizens, including in the attempted assassination of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the UK in 2018, a senior official defense intelligence official told reporters on Thursday.

They also referred to the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002, when nearly 1,000 people were trapped after the Dubrovka theater was taken over by a group of Chechen terrorists. Russian law enforcement pumped a chemical agent into the building’s ventilation system to halt the attack, but killed up to 130 hostages in the process.

While none of these examples are related to military conflict, they underscore the Kremlin’s tendency to use a heavier hand in the face of resistance. As Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine now enters its third week, officials fear Moscow may resort to more barbaric tactics to secure victory, including the use of chemical weapons.

“It’s time for the world to realize that Putin, as he loses to the Ukrainian army, is ready to use his chemical and biological weapons,” said Borislay Bereza, a former member of Ukraine’s parliament and member of the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said in a statement.

Laura Kelly contributed