What is a chemical attack? Why US thinks Russia could use biological weapons in Ukraine - and what it means

US President Joe Biden has said the weapons are likely to be used by Russia in Ukraine

President Joe Biden has said that there Russia’s “false flags” are a “clear sign” that Russia is preparing to use chemical weapons in the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia had previously accused the US of developing such weapons within Ukraine, an accusation which White House press secretary Jen Psaki branded “preposterous”.

However, President Biden has now spoken publicly, stating that the US believed that Russia could turn to using chemical weapons soon.

Here’s everything you need to know about the weapons.

What is a chemical attack?

While Russia has been using weapons such as rockets in its assault on Ukraine, the country could make the move towards using chemical weapons and attacks.

Advertisement

The official definition, as defined by The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, says that the weapons are “a chemical used to cause intentional death or harm through its toxic properties”.

These toxic chemicals are defined as “any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals”.

Have chemical weapons ever been used?

The use of chemical weapons as a form of attack grew to prominence in the First World War.

Bombs containing mustard gas and chlorine were dropped on troops, resulting in painful and often deadly consequences.

The Holocaust in the Second World War is another example, with millions of people killed in gassing chambers in concentration camps.

Advertisement

One of the most recent cases saw Russia accused of using the nerve agent novichok to target Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.

The poison injured five people in the town, including Mr Skirpal and his daughter.

Are chemical weapons illegal?

The use of chemical weapons in warfare has been banned since 1925.

193 countries signed the Geneva Protocol agreeing to ban the use of chemicals as weapons.

However, this has not stopped the use of the weapons in conflicts throughout the world.

Advertisement

The Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria have been accused by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon of carrying out at least 17 chemical attacks in the Syrian Civil War, a claim which Russia denies.

Despite the ban on the use of the weapons, many countries, including the US, still keep a stockpile of chemical weapons.

Will Russia use chemical weapons in Ukraine?

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday 22 March, President Biden said: “Putin’s back is against the wall.

“He wasn’t anticipating the extent or the strength of our unity. And the more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ.

Advertisement

“Now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up, including he’s asserting that, we, in America, have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true.

“They’re also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he is considering using both of those.

“He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what’s about to come. He knows there’ll be severe consequences because of the united NATO front, but the point is: It’s real.”

It comes shortly after the UK Ministry of Defence said that Russia has already used thermobaric rockets in an airstrike on the region.

A thermobaric rocket, also known as a vacuum bomb, is one which sucks in oxygen to create a larger explosion and a bigger impact in the blast radius.

Russia have accused the US themselves of developing chemical weapons in Ukraine after claiming that “recently found documents” showed that the US Department of Defence have funded the manufacturing of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories.

Advertisement

Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.