The Azov regiment claimed on April 11th that the Russian forces had used an unknown poisonous chemical substance against Ukrainian Forces in the besieged city of Mariupol.
SOFREP is fully aware of propaganda from both sides of the war, in yesterday’s SITREP we expressed skepticism that an actual chemical attack occurred given the evidence presented so far. We think a single use of CS or White Phosphorus is more likely even if it was used improperly. Generally, chemical attacks involve a barrage of many rounds to saturate an area with the chemical for maximum casualties. A single round or two is not going to be effective. While we would not put it past the Russians to use such munitions given their random shelling of civilian areas and widespread and credible reports of atrocities committed against civil populations, not just in Ukraine but everywhere the Russian army fights, we just don’t think there is enough evidence to support the claim, but we will still report on the claims being made for your information and judgment.
The southern city in Ukraine is known as one of the most heavily bombed cities during the month-old war, where almost all infrastructures were destroyed. It is also the city where Russians bombed various hospitals and evacuation centers.
According to reports, the unknown chemical was dropped from a Russian drone. While these reports are still raw and cannot be verified by journalists on the ground due to the alleged chemical warfare, those who came in contact with the unknown chemical reportedly experienced dizziness, respiratory issues, and shortness of breath, vestibullocerebellar ataxia, and other symptoms.
Azov leader Andriy Biletsky claimed that three people had clear signs of “chemical poisoning.” However, there were no deaths reported from the alleged chemical attack, and it had no “disastrous consequences” on their health.
A Mariupol resident also claimed that there was “white smoke” coming from a local factory. The male resident suddenly fell down after feeling the “sudden onset of tinnitus and tachycardia.” This was triggered by a “fog that came out of nowhere” and allegedly had a “sweet taste.”
Another resident suffered red marks around his eyes after an explosion had taken place as they were hiding in a basement.
“We went up to check what was going on. We got up and saw fog, or more like smoke. It was not thick,” he said. “I felt short of breath, it was very difficult to breathe, and I immediately felt dizzy. My legs were shaking, and they were kind of like cotton,” the resident reported to iNews.
This would not be the first time the Russians have been implicated in using chemical and poisonous weapons in the war. While not proven nor used directly on the battlefield, it was reported that Ukrainian negotiators, including Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, were allegedly poisoned after a meeting with the Russians. They reportedly developed peeling of skin on their faces and hands, with Abramovich developing temporary blindness. According to two chemical weapons experts consulted by Bellingcat, the symptoms were consistent with the chemical effects of porphyrin, organophosphates, or bicyclic substances.
A spokesman for the Russian proxies in Donetsk Eduard Basurin’s previous statements may provide some form of insight into the alleged attacks. They had previously said that the Azov was located on underground floors at the fortified Azovstal steel mill located in Mariupol. They wanted to get the Azov out of the mill so that they could advance, so they explicitly stated that they could “ask our chemical forces to find a way to smoke these moles out of their holes.”
Here is his full statement as reported by The Kyiv Independent:
“There are underground floors (at Azovstal), and that’s why it makes no sense to storm this object now. We could have a lot of our soldiers killed, and the enemy won’t suffer casualties. That’s why currently, we should figure out how to block this mill and find all ways in and out. And after that, we should ask our chemical forces to find a way to smoke these moles out of their holes.“
Russia has also used chemical weapons during its intervention in Syria. They allegedly did this with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2012, defending the dictator for its usage of chemical weapons. They also used the notorious chemical weapon Novichok against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
This may indicate that the Russian forces and those recruited from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are now frustrated with their failure to occupy Mariupol. For context, they have sieged the port city since the beginning of their invasion and have bombed it several times, and they have yet to gain complete control over it. It is important to note that they continually pursue the city as it would create a land bridge between mainland Russia and Russian-backed Crimea, which it had annexed in 2014. Recent reports have said that the city of Mariupol might fall to Russian control as advances continue, with small pockets of territory still being defended by Ukrainians.
The Pentagon has been notified of the potential usage as this could be the first official instance where chemical weapons were used. Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said that their intel could not verify the chemical weapons usage but said it was “deeply concerning.”
“We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Kirby said in an emailed statement, according to Global News.
President Biden last month indicated that the use of chemical and biological weapons would prompt a “severe” reaction from the West but did not indicate what specific reaction these would be.
“[Putin’s] back is against the wall, and now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up including, asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe, simply not true.”
This statement came after the Kremlin had accused the US of sponsoring chemical weapons laboratories in Ukraine, which were later revealed to be research institutions for dangerous diseases. These labs were also not a secret as their existence was very much public for many years since its inception.
Along with these statements, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) had stated on NBC that the US and NATO should consider the usage of chemical weapons as a “red line” and said that the US should stop telling the Russians what “we won’t do.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda described the usage of chemical weapons as a “game-changer” if Russia were to use them and claimed that NATO would have to discuss a reaction as its usage would signify more danger.
Most recently, the leaders who attended the NATO meeting in Brussels also expressed their “concern” about Russia using chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine, and they indicated that they have teams ready to respond to a chemical attack. However, this response is unknown since NATO has repeatedly stated that they do not wish to get directly involved with the conflict.
It was after this meeting that Biden again said that “We would respond. We would respond” to a chemical attack and that the response would be “in-kind.”
Currently, UK’s Foreign Secretary Luz Truss has said that the British government is working on verifying the reports. She also said that if the reports could be demonstrated to be accurate, it would make a “callous escalation” of the conflict and would hold Putin responsible.
This is a developing story and SOFREP will continue to report on new developments as they occur.