Britain poised to sideline NATO and act alone if Putin launches chemical attack in Ukraine

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Armed forces minister James Heappey said Russian President Vladimir Putin would be wrong to think a response to Moscow’s use of banned weapons required a NATO vote. He added: “There have been plenty of occasions where countries have acted unilaterally in response to outrages and others where smaller bi-lateral or tri-lateral responses have come together quickly.”

“President Putin cannot think there is any safety for him in knowing international consensus would need to be achieved. It does not have to be through NATO.”

He explained that it was the US, UK and France took action in Syria.

Mr Heappey told German newspaper Die Welt: “One country could decide that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale and that they respond in kind. It could be that two countries do, three countries do.

“It could be that it’s a NATO thing. But my sense is that would be too hard to corral and the speed that you’d need to do it in order for it to be a relevant response.”

Concerns have grown in recent weeks that Moscow could launch a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine, although Russia said on Wednesday that US claims of such use were disinformation.

Russia insists its last chemical stockpiles were destroyed in 2017.

Soldiers from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment reported suffering from shortness of breath, irritated eyes and muscle spasms, allegedly after a Russian drone released a mysterious white gas.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it was checking claims Russia may have used chemical weapons in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

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Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Kyiv was checking unverified information Russia may have used chemical weapons during its siege of Mariupol.

She said that there is a theory that they could have been phosphorous munitions.

Chemical weapons production, use and stockpiling are banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Although condemned by human rights groups, white phosphorous is not banned under the CWC.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Monday night that Russia could resort to chemical weapons as it massed troops in the eastern Donbas region for a new assault on Mariupol.

He did not say if they actually had been used.

The World Health Organization’s European head, Hans Kluge, said on Thursday that the body was preparing for possible “chemical assaults” in Ukraine.

The CWC is overseen by the OPCW in The Hague, which can determine whether toxic chemicals were used as weapons and, since mid-2018, identify perpetrators in Syria.

Under the treaty, the use of the most dangerous “scheduled” toxins and their precursors is banned.

This includes nerve agents sarin, VX and the Soviet-era developed Novichok as well as the poison ricin and blistering agent sulphur mustard.

Russia has been blamed by states at the OPCW for two attacks with the nerve agent Novichok – one against former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March 2018 and a second on Putin critic Alexei Navalny, in Siberia in August 2020.



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