Alarm raised over Russia's possible use of chemical weapons

False flag operation might lead to poison weapons being used to end city sieges

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces in a street after Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-biggest city. AFP
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Russia’s repeated references to chemical and biological weapons is raising alarm over the country's potential use of the weapons.

Experts are suggesting that if Russia's military becomes bogged down around besieged cities, President Vladimir Putin could choose to use chemical weapons, which proved so effective ending sieges in Syria.

While Mr Putin has already raised the threat of nuclear warfare, a foreign ministry spokeswoman took the unusual step of highlighting what she described as Moscow's concerns over Ukraine biological sites.

Russia said on Wednesday that the presence of biological laboratories in Ukraine under American leadership were a direct threat to Russia

“The US administration is responsible for the current events and must provide details of what it was doing in Ukraine,”, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. Washington should explain the programmes, she said.

The press briefing could be a precursor to Russia claiming it has been attacked by biological weapons, giving justification to use them in response.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a chemical warfare specialist, said this could be preparing the ground for their use. “The Russians talking about biological weapons in these laboratories that they claim the Americans are funding seems that they are preparing the battlefield for false flag attacks,” he told The National. “That will then justify them using any weapons they've got.”

In a briefing to media on Wednesday Western security officials also agreed with the assessment that a poison attack could happen. "We've got good reason to be concerned about possible use of non-conventional weapons partly because we've seen what has happened in other theatres for example, in Syria, partly because we see a bit of setting-the-scene for that in the false flag claims that are coming out and other indications as well, so it is serious."

In Aleppo and Idlib, Syrian forces were responsible for a series of indiscriminate chlorine attacks that poisoned people sheltering in bunkers. Similarly, phosphorous incendiary devices were fired into urban areas causing infernos that were impossible to escape. Both forms of attack cause horrific injuries and death.

After Aleppo had held out for four years against the regime's conventional bombardment, the Syrian armed forces in 2016 spent 13 days dropping 100 kilogram or 50kg barrel bombs packed with liquid chlorine into the rubble.

Syrian pro-government forces in Aleppo's western district of Dahiyet al-Assad, after they retook the area from rebel fighters in November 2016. AFP

Chlorine is a heavier-than-air gas, so it sank underground causing people to either choke to death or be forced to the surface where they were shot or captured.

White phosphorous munitions were also regularly used against Syrian opposition in Idlib as part of a scorched earth policy

“We've seen some horrific injuries in Syria where children have been horrendously burnt by this stuff,” Mr de Bretton Gordon said. “If you get it on your skin, it burns terribly and water makes it burn with even greater ferocity. Similarly, chlorine just sinks underground, getting into all the nooks and crannies where people are hiding.”

He questioned whether Mr Putin would do something “as rudimentary as chlorine”, but he did point to other Russian weapons. “We understand that the Russians have a nerve agent programme around Novichok, which is incredibly toxic, so air-dropped bombs full of Novichok would have the same effect.”

There was also a possibility that the Russian GRU, the foreign intelligence service, would try cause terror across Europe using Novichok, something Gen David Richards highlighted in The National on Tuesday.

Personnel in protective clothing at the scene in Salisbury, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018 were found critically ill after exposure to Novichok nerve agent. PA

“Is Putin going to have qualms about using it for his great war in Ukraine? I just don't think he will,” Mr de Bretton Gordon said.

He agreed that Russian agents could conduct similar operations to the Novichok poisoning as it did in Salisbury in 2018, killing one person and seriously injuring four others.

“Just one molecule of Novichok can kill a person and a quarter of an eggcup contains millions of molecules,” he said. “It is incredibly toxic, if inhaled death is near instantaneous.” He said that it was four times deadlier than the sarin used by Saddam Hussein to slaughter 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

“If things go very badly for Russia in Ukraine I think absolutely the Russians will wage this type of war and the GRU are in many places in Europe,” he said. “And we know the Russians favour irregular weapons such as polonium and Novichok to cause terror among populations.”

Updated: March 09, 2022, 4:42 PM