The United States, Britain and other Western allies, along with the Ukrainian government, are investigating claims that Russia deployed a chemical agent that sickened a handful of people in Moscow’s relentless attempt to take complete control of the devastated Ukrainian city. city of Mariupol.
Pytor Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city government, said local officials believed a chemical had been dropped by a drone on the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, one of the last redoubts of Ukrainian forces defending the city. They said it was unclear whether it was fatal.
He said it might have been tear gas, but they couldn’t be sure.
“It is absolutely correct information that something fell off a drone yesterday in that area and had some chemical stuff in it,” he said. “But we’re not sure if it was poison or something else.”
Ukrainian military commanders in the city said Russian forces had used a drone on Monday to deploy “a poisonous substance of unknown origin” that caused breathing difficulties and neurological symptoms that may be associated with chemical agents in a handful of soldiers and civilians.
The reports, while unverified, are being dealt with seriously given long-standing warnings from Western intelligence agencies that Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin could use unconventional weapons to quell the Ukrainian opposition. Russia failed to take Kiev and quickly overthrow the Ukrainian government, but has shifted its focus to eastern and southern Ukraine, and defeating the remaining troops in Mariupol is essential in Russia’s attempt to gain more control over Ukraine. get the region.
The United States, Britain and Australia said they were monitoring the situation closely and that there would be consequences if chemical agents were indeed used.
“These reports, if true, are very worrying and reflect concerns we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control means, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” the statement said. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. on Monday.
The group said at least three soldiers and civilians were affected and that they were in “relatively satisfactory condition”. It said the substance had been deployed near Ukrainian military positions but “some distance” from civilian sites, and that it was “impossible to investigate the crime scene due to enemy fire”.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told a national television channel that the government was verifying Mariupol’s information.
The British army had said earlier on Monday that Russia had previously used phosphorus ammunition as a weapon in eastern Ukraine, raising the possibility that they could be used in Mariupol. Phosphorus weapons are not considered chemical weapons and their limited use – although controversial – is not prohibited under international law.
Russia, like Ukraine and most other countries, has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty banning their use. Moscow also played a key role in pressuring the Syrian government to join the treaty in 2013, after it was accused of using a poisonous nerve agent on civilians in that country’s civil war.
But the Kremlin has tried to protect its Syrian ally from numerous accusations of using chemical weapons, calling such claims unfounded or fictitious. Moscow has also been accused of using chemicals to poison opponents, including Alexei A. Navalny, the political figure. Russia denies these allegations.
On Monday, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Kremlin-backed separatist People’s Republic of Donetsk, described Mariupol’s steel plant as a “city within a city” and said Russian troops should “turn to the chemical forces, who will find a way to smoke the moles from their dens.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Basurin that he was talking about flamethrowers, not chemical weapons.