US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday addressed Monday allegations out of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol that Russian forces had used chemical weapons there. Reuters describes of his words that "the United States is not in a position to confirm anything when it comes to reports of the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine." He added however that "We're in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually has happened. So this is a real concern," he said to reporters.
Crucially, he added that the US has "credible information" that Russia might use 'chemical agents' in Ukraine, it's being reported further. But he seemed to suggest it was more related to riot control gear and not necessarily major battlefield deployments: "We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas, mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms...This is a real concern..." he said. "We shared that information with Ukraine, as well as with other partners."
His ambiguous words came less than 12 hours after Pentagon spokesman John Kirby the evening before appeared to downplay the claims coming out of Azov militants in Mariupol, which were also treated with skepticism by many journalists and analysts.
"We are aware of social media reports which claim Russian forces deployed a potential chemical munition in Mariupol, Ukraine," Kirby had said Monday. "We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely."
"These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine," Kirby added.
But it was the British government which had earlier on Monday served to amplify Azov's completely unverified claims - alarming given that UK state media itself had long before the Ukraine invasion labeled Azov battalion as a neo-Nazi organization.
The only source reporting this so far is the Azov regiment. No independent/credible journalists are working in Mariupol now, so very difficult to verify. There were a lot of warnings earlier over Russia's potential use of chemical weapons in Ukraine https://t.co/TwC9pHf3tK— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) April 11, 2022
The UK foreign ministry on Monday said as follows:
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also said her government was working "urgently" to verify details an alleged attack.
The original report was in the form of a Telegram message posted by the Azov Regiment, an ultra-nationalist part of the Ukrainian National Guard. The Azov message said Russian forces used “a poisonous substance of unknown origin.”
"Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict, and we will hold Putin and his regime to account." Truss wrote on Twitter.
Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the people of Mariupol. We are working urgently with partners to verify details.— Liz Truss (@trussliz) April 11, 2022
Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account.
At the same time Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also advanced the accusations, saying, "One of the Russian occupiers’ speakers said that they might use chemical weapons against our defenders in Mariupol." He added: "We take it very seriously."
Meanwhile, among Western MSM journalists, there's been a surprising number who were quick to express skepticism based on the nature of just who is making the chemical attack claims...
The accusation is serious, but it’s important to note the context that Azov fighters, a controversial Ukrainian unit, are running out of weapons in Mariupol. Needs to be proven, but very worrying indeed. https://t.co/AARetahnG2— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) April 11, 2022
This is perhaps due to the obvious: with Azov's back up against the wall in the Mariupol region and east, it's understood the group wants to convince the West of the worst allegations possible in order to invite NATO direct intervention against the Russians.
Certainly this won't be the last of these claims being floated, yet the bar is likely to move ever lower in terms of verification and the threshold of evidence - given for example the UK's rush to treat the accusations as legitimate.