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Date : May 26, 2022

Reports of Russian Chemical Weapons Use in Ukraine ‘Deeply Concerning,’ Pentagon Says

The Pentagon on Monday expressed alarm about reports as yet unconfirmed that Russian forces loyal to President Vladimir Putin employed chemical weapons against Ukrainian troops in the besieged city of Mariupol – a move that, if true, would represent a major shift to the conflict there and Western involvement in it.

The supposed use of some sort of toxic aerosol dropped from a drone apparently operated by Russian forces was first reported by the far-right Azov Regiment, one of the elements of Ukraine’s armed forces operating in the key port city that has come under devastating and indiscriminate Russian shelling in recent weeks. The regiment reported late Monday that nearby troops subsequently had trouble breathing.

“We are aware of social media reports which claim Russian forces deployed a potential chemical munition in Mariupol, Ukraine. We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said in an emailed statement to U.S. News. “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.”

Other elements of the governments of the U.S. and Ukraine did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Several Ukrainian military sources operating in the conflict zone could not independently verify to U.S. News the substance of the reports.

However, those sources observe that the news comes a day after Putin appointed to take over command of Russian operations Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, who oversaw the brutal and cruel Russian-backed campaign in Syria of employing toxic nerve agents indiscriminately in densely populated civilian centers in gross violation of international law.

Russia Invades Ukraine: A Timeline of the Crisis

Western intelligence officials have warned that the Kremlin’s debunked propaganda about U.S.-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine served as a pretext for its own potential use of chemical weapons there.

The latest news, if confirmed, would be hugely consequential. Many Western leaders have previously warned that Russia’s use of chemical weapons in Ukraine would, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before a head-of-state summit last month, “be a blatant violation of international law and will have far-reaching consequences” and “totally change the nature of the conflict.”

President Joe Biden said last month that any Russian chemical weapons use in Ukraine would force a response “in kind” from the U.S. The White House later clarified the president did not mean that American forces would employ chemical weapons but that it would escalate a conflict that, for the administration, has centered as much on supporting the Ukrainians as it has preventing the war from expanding elsewhere into Europe or dragging in NATO.