Will Russia Use Chemical Weapons in Ukraine? Researchers Evaluate the Risks

Wed, 06 Apr 2022 08:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

Analysts explain why some fear that the Russian military will use chemical weapons—and how the world...

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears its 7th week, Western governments and independent observers continue to warn that Russia's military could escalate from indiscriminately bombing cities to using non-conventional warfare, in particular chemical weapons.

Why do Western leaders think Russia might use chemical weapons in Ukraine?

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, the Netherlands, confirmed that the Syrian army deployed chemical weapons against its own people.

"Russia has a long track record of accusing others of what they are either already doing or about to do," said US President Joe Biden on 22 March, according to news outlet CNBC. Trapp, who is a former OPCW officer and was involved in verifying adherence to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention in several countries, including Ukraine, says there is no evidence that Ukraine has chemical weapons.

The OPCW, which monitors compliance to the treaty, verified in 2017 that Russia had destroyed all its declared stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called accusations that the country's military plans to use chemical weapons in Ukraine a "Smear campaign" by Western nations.

"If you are using them against a military target, it is relatively straightforward for the defenders to have CBW protection kits," says Paul Rogers, a peace-studies researcher at the University of Bradford, UK. Instead, chemical weapons are primarily a tool for terrorizing populations and breaking their will to resist, Rogers and other researchers say.

Is there any way to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine?

If the Kremlin is serious about its accusation that Ukraine is preparing to use chemical weapons, it could pursue its allegations through the proper channels.

If the Russian government is claiming that Ukraine has chemical weapons as a pretext to use such weapons itself, then any country-even Ukraine-could trigger OPCW inspections of Ukraine to challenge the assertion.