Any use of chemical weapons by Russia in its strikes on Ukraine, a UK minister said Tuesday, “will elicit a reaction, and all options are on the table.”
The stern warning came only hours after London announced it was investigating accusations that Moscow used chemical weapons in Mariupol, a beleaguered Ukrainian city.
“If they are used at all, (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin should be aware that all possible options in terms of how the West can respond are on the table,” armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky News.
“Some things are beyond the pale, and the deployment of chemical weapons will be met with a retaliation.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had announced just hours before that the UK was working with partners to confirm accusations that Russian forces had deployed chemical weapons in Mariupol.
“Any deployment of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this confrontation,” she continued on Twitter. “We will hold Putin and his dictatorship accountable.”
The Azov battalion of Ukraine first reported earlier Monday that a Russian drone had thrown a “poisonous substance” on troops and residents in Mariupol.
People were said to be suffering from respiratory failure and neurological issues, according to the police.
In a video message on Telegram, battalion leader Andrei Biletsky said, “Three people have unmistakable evidence of poisoning by warfare agents, but without catastrophic effects.”
He said that the Russians employed chemical weapons during an attack on the city’s massive Azovstal metallurgical facility.
The assertions, which were echoed by Ukrainian politicians, were unable to be verified by AFP.
Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov, has been under siege for weeks, and Ukrainian forces have warned that it will fall soon.
The purported chemical attack “is not currently confirmed,” according to a Telegram message from the mayor’s aide.
“We are awaiting official military information,” Petro Andryushchenko stated.
Washington was aware of the reports, but could not corroborate them, according to US Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, who spoke late Monday.
“If true, these reports are highly disturbing, and they mirror our fears about Russia’s propensity to use a variety of riot control agents in Ukraine, including tear gas laced with chemical agents,” he said.
Eduard Basurin, a top politician in the rebel Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, has suggested that chemical weapons could be deployed in Mariupol.
On Monday, Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Basurin as suggesting that the besieging soldiers could “resort to chemical troops who will find a means to smoke the moles out of their holes.”
Russia has denied committing any war crimes in Ukraine during its so-called “special military operations.”
The British Ministry of Defense claimed the Kremlin was continuing to “refocus its efforts” on the country’s east in its daily intelligence update on the crisis.
“Russian forces are withdrawing from Belarus in order to redeploy in support of operations in eastern Ukraine,” the statement continued.