Putin Deploys Banned Chemical Agent in Bold Bid to Overwhelm Ukraine

Rising tensions mark a dangerous phase in Ukraine

by Zain ul Abedin
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Putin Deploys Banned Chemical Agent in Bold Bid to Overwhelm Ukraine
© Pool/Getty Images

In a significant escalation of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, US officials have accused Russia of deploying a prohibited chemical agent, chloropicrin, as a tactical weapon to achieve battlefield gains. This deployment, if verified, represents a grave violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a treaty to which Russia is a signatory.

According to the State Department, this act undermines international norms and commitments to global chemical weapons laws. Chloropicrin, historically utilized during World War I, is known for causing severe physical distress, including irritation to the lungs and eyes, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, as detailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The use of such a substance, especially in a war setting, raises significant humanitarian and ethical concerns. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees compliance with the CWC, categorizes chloropicrin as a choking agent expressly forbidden under international law.

Despite Moscow's firm denial of these allegations, calling them "baseless," and its stated adherence to the CWC, the implications of these accusations are severe. This incident marks a concerning potential shift in Russia's military tactics, particularly noted after US President Joe Biden's explicit warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin against the use of chemical weapons in March 2022.

President Biden emphasized that the use of such weapons would incur a "severe price," suggesting a robust international response depending on the nature and scale of the usage.

Escalating Chemical Warfare

Furthermore, US Assistant Secretary for Arms Control Mallory Stewart highlighted the reported regular use of riot control agents, such as tear gas, by Russian forces.

These instances align with Ukraine's claims of encountering an increased frequency of chemical attacks, with recent months seeing a purported rise in the use of grenades filled with tear gases. The broader international community remains on alert as these developments unfold.

Over 500 Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly required treatment for exposure to toxic gases, according to Reuters, underscoring the human cost of this conflict. Additionally, the US has imposed sanctions on three Russian organizations linked to the country's chemical weapons program, along with other entities connected to the government.

This situation also echoes past incidents wherein Russia faced accusations of chemical weapon use, including the 2017 attack on a former Soviet intelligence officer and the 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

These historical precedents, coupled with the current allegations, paint a troubling picture of Russia’s engagement with chemical warfare tactics, drawing widespread condemnation and increasing tensions on the global stage.

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