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US, Ukrainian officials brace for possible Russian chemical attack

Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Top U.S. and Ukrainian officials are bracing for Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons in the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, although the Pentagon on Sunday said the U.S. has not seen signs of an “imminent chemical or biological attack right now” on Ukraine. 

Questions over a possible chemical weapons attack by Russia emerged this week after Moscow accused the U.S. of housing biological weapons in Ukrainian territory — a statement the White House rejected.

The U.S. has warned that Russia may be making such claims to lay false pretexts for a potential attack by Moscow.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the U.S. has not “seen anything that indicates some sort of imminent chemical or biological attack right now,” but emphasized the department is “watching this very, very closely.”

If Russia does decide to launch such an attack against Ukraine, however, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan echoed President Biden in telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the U.S. is prepared to impose “severe consequences” on Moscow, though he did not say what those consequences would be. 

He said the U.S. has communicated the threat of such consequences “directly to the Russians,” and has consulted with allies and partners on the issue.

Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Russia accusing the U.S. and Ukrainians of potentially using chemical and biological weapons is “a tell that they themselves may be preparing to do so, and then trying to pin the blame on someone else.”

The Ukrainians also appear to be preparing for a potential chemical weapons attack on their soil.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was asked during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” if he Ukraine’s government expected NATO to defend Kyiv should Moscow launch a chemical weapons attack.

“And when you’re asking me whether NATO will defend us, well, we do not have — we do not expect that,” Kuleba said. “What we are asking is very simple thing. We say arm Ukraine and we will do the rest. Give us all the weapons necessary and we will fight for our own land and for our people.”

Chemical weapons are among the many concerns as Russia’s war on Ukraine grinds into its third week, along with apparent threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons should the West confront Russia, and continued deadly missile attacks on civilian targets. 

Moscow and Kyiv have met multiple times for talks amid the fighting, but no major breakthroughs have emerged. 

Sullivan told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Putin is resorting to such “extreme tactics” because he is “frustrated” that “his forces aren’t advancing,” which he credited to the “bravery and skill” of Ukrainians and the support from the U.S. and its allies. 

But still, even though Russia’s offensive may not be moving as quickly as Putin had planned, the military and civilian death toll is growing by the day.

At least 35 people were killed on Sunday when a Russian missile strike hit the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, which is located less than 15 miles from Ukraine’s closest border with Poland.

Also on Sunday, news broke that American photographer and filmmaker Brent Renaud was fatally shot in Irpen earlier that day. 

At least 549 civilians in Ukraine had been killed in the invasion since March 9, and more than 2.698 million refugees have fled the country, according to the United Nations.

Russia further accelerated its offensive this week when it abducted two Ukrainian mayors: Yevhen Matveyev of Dniprorudne and Ivan Fedorov of Melitopol. Kuleba on Sunday said that Matveyev had been taken by Moscow’s forces.

The pattern of events is stoking fear within Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he is “of course” worried that he is the target of the Russian military, but emphasized that he does not worry about himself and is instead ready to fight for Ukrainian citizens.

With the conflict now in its third week with no signs of Russia’s violence slowing, top U.S. officials are being pressed on how the altercation in Europe will come to an end.

Asked during an interview on “Fox News Sunday” how the conflict comes to a close, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S.’s economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia is “beginning to have some effect.”

She added the U.S. is working to “put enormous pressure on Vladimir Putin to try to change his calculus, to end this war, to get a cease-fire in the first instance, to get humanitarian corridors, and to end this invasion.”

“We are seeing some signs of a willingness to have real serious negotiations, but I have to say, as your reporter said, so far, it appears that Vladimir Putin is intent on destroying Ukraine. We need to help Ukrainians in every way we can,” she added.

Tags chemical weapons Jake Sullivan Joe Biden John Kirby Vladimir Putin Wendy Sherman
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