Chemical weapons watchdog ‘concerned’ by Mariupol reports

Reports first emerged Ukraine’s far-right Azov battalion that a Russian drone had dropped a ‘poisonous substance’ on troops and civilians.

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen in Mariupol
Service members of pro-Russian troops inspect streets during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has said it was “concerned” about reports of the use of chemical weapons in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol.

Reports first emerged late on Monday from Ukraine’s Azov battalion that a Russian drone had dropped a “poisonous substance” on troops and civilians in Mariupol.

“The Technical Secretariat of the OPCW is monitoring closely the situation in Ukraine. The Secretariat is concerned by the recent unconfirmed report of chemical weapons use in Mariupol, which has been carried in the media over the past 24 hours,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement.

“All 193 OPCW Member States, including the Russian Federation and Ukraine, are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty of major importance in the field of disarmament that has been in force since 1997.”

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine map Who controls what in Mariupol DAY 48
[Al Jazeera]

The statement added that use of chemical weapons anywhere under any circumstances was “reprehensible and wholly contrary to the legal norms established by the international community against such use”.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said the government was checking unverified information that Russia may have used chemical weapons while besieging Mariupol.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also addressed the reports coming from Mariupol.

“We’re not in a position to confirm anything, I don’t think Ukrainians are either,” Blinken told reporters.

“But let me say that 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 to weaken, incapacitate … Ukrainian fighters and civilians, as part of the aggressive campaign [in Mariupol].”

“We share that information with … Ukraine and other partners,” Blinken said. “And we’re in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually is happening.”

US President Joe Biden warned last month of a “real threat” Russia may use chemical weapons in Ukraine, repeating earlier allegations from the White House.

The UK’s armed forces minister James Heappey told British broadcaster Sky News that if evidence of chemical weapons use emerges, “all options are on the table” as a response.

“There are some things that are beyond the pale, and the use of chemical weapons will get a response,” he says.

The last time chemical weapons were unleashed during a conflict was in Syria where a civil war erupted in 2011 as rebels sought to depose President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria only publicly admitted in 2012 that it possessed chemical weapons after pressure from Russia.

Taking over Mariupol

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a post on Facebook that it was “likely” that Russian troops would soon move to try and seize full control of Mariupol.

It added that Ukrainian forces had repelled six “enemy attacks” in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known collectively as Donbas, where Moscow is expected to launch a new offensive soon.

Four Russian tanks, a plane, two helicopters and several other vehicles were reportedly destroyed during the fighting.

Ukraine has said it is preparing for a Russian offensive in the eastern part of the country, after Moscow withdrew from areas around the capital, Kyiv.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies