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30 May, 2024
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Urgency and skepticism clash as west probes chems in Ukraine

West scrambles to verify Kiev’s claims as Moscow denies Russian forces in Mariupol used chemical weapons


Moscow says claims by American officials about the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine were “baseless” as politicians and experts were becoming more skeptical about Kiev’s allegations.

US and UK officials were scrambling Monday to verify details of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Mariupol, following reports by Ukrainian military nationalists holed up in the besieged city that Russians had used “a poisonous substance of unknown origin.”

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday said Washington was concerned that Russia may use chemical weapons in its weeks-long campaign in Ukraine.

“Russia has a track record. Russia has used these agents on their own people,” Price said, adding Russian forces might use “a variety of riot-control agents, and that includes tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms."

But Moscow quickly dismissed Price’s claims saying they were “provocative statements” and rejected any possibility that Russia would use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

"Ned Price once again distinguished himself by his idle talk, not substantiated by a single piece of evidence,” the embassy said.

Western officials raised questions about the credibility of the Azov battalion, noting the far-right group might be eager to provoke a larger confrontation

Moscow says Russian armed forces "do not and cannot have any chemical warfare agents" at their disposal, with officials adding Russia eliminated all chemical weapons stockpiles back in 2017.

Last week, according to the Russian News Agency, Moscow said it had “reliable evidence that Kiev has been plotting more chemical provocations with support from US advisers.”

The chief Russian delegate to the Vienna talks on military security and arms control, Konstantin Gavrilov, claimed that on April 5, “the Ukrainian army before leaving Rubezhnoye, in the Lugansk People’s Republic, exploded a cistern with chemicals on the premises of the Zarya industrial plant.”

“The 40,000 tonnes of sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid and ammonia still remaining there, if exploded, is capable of destroying all life within a range of 30 kilometers," Gavrilov warned.

But a video released Tuesday on Telegram by the Azov regiment, a Ukrainian nationalist military group, showed three individuals who were allegedly victims of chemical warfare.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed to "hold Putin and his regime to account" while clarifying that they were “working urgently with partners to verify details."

Later that that day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kiev was taking reports of possible use of chemical weapons by Russians “as seriously as possible” but did not revisit the issue on Tuesday during a televised speech to the Lithuanian parliament when he accused Russia of war crimes.

But Politico said western officials raised questions about the credibility of the Azov battalion, noting the far-right group might be eager to provoke a larger confrontation.

“There’s no independent verification in that area, so it’s likely to be a long time,” a European official said according to Politico.

On Tuesday evening the White House also urged caution, noting that “the use of chemical weapons remains unverified.”

Last month Washington officials walked back statements by US President Joe Biden who had said America would responds “in kind” if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday urged everyone to “double check everything and at least look for an alternative point of view.”

"The Ukrainian side stoops to the most intricate ways of producing fake news," Peskov said.

Cyprus  |  Ukraine  |  Russia  |  chemical  |  war  |  Azov battalion  |  Mariupol

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