Concern mounts over Russia’s possible use of chemical weapons in Ukraine
By Joseph Fitsanakis: There are growing concerns in Western intelligence circles that the war in Ukraine may be entering an unconventional phase in the coming days, as Russia may deploy chemical weapons on the war-torn country.
Alert levels quickly rose in Western capitals late yesterday, after Russia accused the United States and Ukraine of planning to use biological weapons against its military. Some Western observers expressed fears that the accusations may be an attempt by the Kremlin to justify the large-scale deployment of unconventional weapons in Ukraine.
This is not the first time that Moscow has levelled such accusations against the United States and Ukraine. For over a decade, senior officials in the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin have claimed that the United States and Britain have maintained secret networks of biological weapons laboratories in Eastern Europe. But the Kremlin’s accusations have been getting more frequent and more specific in recent days. On March 7, Igor Kirillov, chief of the Russian military’s Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces, alleged that American and Ukrainian soldiers were destroying biological weapons facilities in Western Ukraine. Their goal, Kirillov claimed, was to keep lethal biological agents from falling into the hands of the Russian military.
Two days later, on March 9, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov stated that Ukrainian forces had secretly transported “80 tons of ammonia” to a location northwest of Kharkiv. The purpose of the operation, Konashenkov said, was to carry out a “provocation using toxic substances”, and then blame Russia of using chemical weapons.
During the Syrian Civil War, Moscow levelled similar allegations against Syrian rebels shortly before the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched chemical attacks against rebel-held areas.
There is also concern among Western analysts that the disconnection of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s electrical network from Ukraine’s electrical grid may be “a Russian attempt to trigger nuclear panic over a potential radiological incident” in Ukraine. In light of this incident, some observers are beginning to interpret prior attacks on the Zaporizhia nuclear facility on March 4, and on a research facility containing a nuclear reactor in Kharkiv on March 6, as deliberate acts by Moscow. They say that the Kremlin may actively be seeking to introduce unconventional weapons into the war in Ukraine.
Joseph Fitsanakis, BSocSc, MSc, PhD, is Professor of Intelligence and Security Studies in the Department of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carolina University. He also built the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King University, where he also directed the King Institute for Security and Intelligence Studies