- Ukrainian politicians and military on Monday accused Russia of using chemical weapons in Mariupol.
- The Pentagon said it was monitoring the information closely, but could not confirm it yet.
- He said the reports “reflected” his earlier concerns about Russia’s use of chemical weapons.
The Pentagon is closely monitoring several allegations made Monday that Russia used chemical weapons against the beleaguered Ukrainian city of Mariupol, spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
“We are aware of social media reports that claim Russian forces have deployed possible chemical munitions in Mariupol, Ukraine,” Kirby said. “We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflect concerns we have had about Russia’s potential to use various riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” did he declare.
The Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons would be a major escalation of its invasion of Ukraine and increase pressure on the United States or NATO to act directly in the conflict.
Earlier on Monday, the founder of the controversial Ukrainian Azov regiment, which fought in Mariupol, claimed in a video on Telegram that Russia had used chemical weapons at a steel mill where Ukrainian forces were buried. The unit said three people were poisoned as a result of the alleged chemical attack.
The charges come as Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the breakaway Russian-recognized Donetsk People’s Republic, suggested on Russian television that Moscow should deploy “chemical forces” on Ukrainian troops, according to The New York Times.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to Basurin’s threat in a video address, calling his words “a preparation for a new stage of terror against Ukraine and our defenders”.
“One of the occupiers’ spokespersons said that they might use chemical weapons against Mariupol defenders. We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskyy said.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also tweeted monday that the UK was working “urgently” to confirm details of the chemical attack reports.
“Any use of such weapons would be a ruthless escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account,” she wrote.
Mariupol, a port city in southern Ukraine isolated by Moscow-backed separatists and Russian troops, is now the scene of one of the war’s bloodiest conflicts.
Its mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said late Monday that more than 10,000 civilians had died in the siege so far, according to The Associated Press, although his report has yet to be independently verified. On Monday, the United Nations confirmed the death of 1,842 civilians across Ukraine as a result of the war.