While the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has so far been unable to confirm reports, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her US counterparts are scrambling to verify whether a chemical weapon was deployed by Russian troops in Mariupol, Ukraine. It comes after the Azov Battalion, a controversial militia that has been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces since 2014, claimed three of its soldiers were showing signs of chemical poisoning after a Russian drone reportedly dropped an unknown substance.
But Azov has not put forward evidence to back up the claim yet, with civic chiefs stressing they were still waiting for more information before it could be confirmed.
Ms Truss tweeted: “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.
“Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his regime to account.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said: “We are aware of social media reports which claim Russian forces deployed a potential chemical munition in Mariupol, Ukraine.
“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.”
It also comes after the MoD warned Russia might use white phosphorous munitions in Mariupol. Which when deployed as a weapon causes horrific burns.
US Representative for the state of Wyoming, Liz Cheney, said that an attack with chemical weapons would be a “red line” for NATO to intervene.
She said: “I think that we in the West, the US and NATO — we need to stop telling the Russians what we won’t do.
READ MORE: Sturgeon humiliated: Shell ‘will restart Cambo oilfield’ project
“We need to be very clear that we are considering all options, that the use of chemical weapons is certainly something that would alter our calculations.”
Defence Minister James Heappey has also said that chemical weapons use may cross a “red line”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I don’t think it’s helpful to get into any firm commitment right now about where that red line sits, but I think President Putin needs to be very clear that when other countries have used chemical weapons it has caused an international response.
“I think he should reflect very urgently on what has happened to other countries where they have used them.”
He added: “President Putin needs to be clear that the use of chemical weapons is just the most despicable thing that anybody can imagine.
Putin threatens to STARVE Germany in horror retaliation to measures [REPORT]
US reveals hypersonic missile test, risks escalating Russia tension [REVEAL]
The deadly weapons UK could send to Ukraine to end Putin’s invasion [INSIGHT]
And US President Joe Biden has warned that NATO “would respond” to a chemical attack in Ukraine.
While not specifying how exactly it would react, Mr Biden warned Putin that he would pay a “severe price”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also stressed that any use of chemical or biological weapons would be a “blatant and brutal violation of international law”.
He said on NBC’s Meet the Press: “At the same time we know that Russia has used chemical agents in Europe before, against their own political opponents and Russia has been facilitating and supporting the Assad regime in Syria, where chemical weapons have been used.
“[W]e are very much aware that we need to act in a way that prevents this conflict from going from being a very bloody, ugly, horrific conflict in Ukraine to something that turns out to be a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia, in Europe, and also potentially involving, of course, the United States directly.”