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Officials fear that Putin may deploy chemical weapons in Ukraine

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Western officials have “serious concerns” that Vladimir Putin will resort to the use of chemical weapons as Russia’s military forces remain bogged down in Ukraine.

Despite the unanticipated success of Ukrainian forces in holding back Mr Putin’s tank columns and maintaining a level of air defence, the Russian dictator shows no sign of letting up on his assault, said one official.

He is “burning through a lot of high-end kit” and taking significant numbers of casualties in his armed forces, raising fears that he may respond to Ukrainian resistance by escalating levels of violence or even deploying non-conventional weapons.

Asked whether this could include chemical weapons, a western official said: “I think we’ve got good reason to be concerned about the possible use of non-conventional weapons, partly because we’ve seen what has happened in other theatres – for example in Syria – partly because we see a bit of setting the scene for that in the sort of false-flag claims that are coming out, and some other indications. “It’s a serious concern for us.”

The White House also publicly warned on Wednesday that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova this week accused Ukraine, without evidence, of running chemical and biological weapons labs in its territory with the support of the US. Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki called Russia’s claim “preposterous” and said it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for itself using such weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine.

Mr Putin’s desire to bring about a swift military breakthrough may be fuelled by what appear to be growing signs of discontent among the Russian population, many of whom are shocked by the decision to invade a country with which they have close ties and shocked by the scale of sanctions imposed in response.

While the impact of sanctions is so far believed to be on the level of “inconvenience rather than hardship”, it is a major psychological blow to ordinary Russians middle classes to see brands like McDonalds, Ikea and Apple pull out of their country and find their credit cards no longer working, said one western official.

There are signs that an increasingly isolated Mr Putin has miscalculated not only the willingness of Ukrainians to resist and the west to respond in a united way, but also the readiness of Russians to support his military adventure, particularly the young who are used to the material advances which have become part of everyday life since the 1980s.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

(Press Association Images)

“I think he didn’t understand the west,” said the official. “I’m not sure that he understood Russia. Of course some older Russians remember the 1980s with affection. But many cultural and media figures spoke out immediately and 1.2 million have now signed the No War petition, small scale protesting – 13,000 arrests so far.

“Many of those who are protesting are those with exposure to the west through culture, education or visits, and they know that the state is lying despite the crackdown on independent media. This underlines that Putin doesn’t understand Russia, particularly not young, educated Russians.”

Middle-class professionals who are able to leave Russia are doing so in growing numbers, particularly families with teenage boys who are fearful that they will be conscripted.

Mr Putin made little attempt to prepare the Russian population – or his army – for the invasion and many were “utterly horrified” to see it happen, having thought Moscow would never repeat its mistake of invading Afghanistan in 1979.

However, western officials have little expectation that this will lead Mr Putin to seek an end to hostilities in talks taking place between his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Turkey on Thursday.

One said that the more likely outcome was “awful” suffering in Ukraine, economic recession and inflation in Russia, more repression and more deaths of young soldiers, ending with Russia more dependent than ever economically and politically on China.

“I think it’s a real betrayal of the younger generation, who are the ones protesting most and the ones who will suffer most from sanctions and loss of opportunities,” said the official. “This is a huge miscalculation but he will not apologise for it.”

However, western officials are increasingly convinced that Mr Putin has no favourable outcome left to him, even if he eventually succeeds in conquering substantial parts of Ukraine.

“I think it will end badly for Putin,” said one. But the official added: “That doesn’t mean it ends well for Ukraine at all. This could end very badly for both.

“Saying that it ends badly for Putin does not mean, the Russians not getting into Kyiv or doing fantastic damage to it with appalling humanitarian costs along the way.

“But my point would be, what happens then? What do they then do with it? What do they do with the rest of the country?”

Defence intelligence estimates suggest Russia would require hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Ukraine against the wishes of its population, said the official

“Is that really where Russia is going with this? It is clear that if anything, Russian actions, further forged a sense of Ukrainian identity and purpose. How are they going to cope with that?

“I’m not saying that they can’t occupy Kyiv and much of the country. It’s what happens after that and where does that go – that’s why I can’t see how it ends well for Putin.”



Western officials have “serious concerns” that Vladimir Putin will resort to the use of chemical weapons as Russia’s military forces remain bogged down in Ukraine.

Despite the unanticipated success of Ukrainian forces in holding back Mr Putin’s tank columns and maintaining a level of air defence, the Russian dictator shows no sign of letting up on his assault, said one official.

He is “burning through a lot of high-end kit” and taking significant numbers of casualties in his armed forces, raising fears that he may respond to Ukrainian resistance by escalating levels of violence or even deploying non-conventional weapons.

Asked whether this could include chemical weapons, a western official said: “I think we’ve got good reason to be concerned about the possible use of non-conventional weapons, partly because we’ve seen what has happened in other theatres – for example in Syria – partly because we see a bit of setting the scene for that in the sort of false-flag claims that are coming out, and some other indications. “It’s a serious concern for us.”

The White House also publicly warned on Wednesday that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova this week accused Ukraine, without evidence, of running chemical and biological weapons labs in its territory with the support of the US. Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki called Russia’s claim “preposterous” and said it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for itself using such weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine.

Mr Putin’s desire to bring about a swift military breakthrough may be fuelled by what appear to be growing signs of discontent among the Russian population, many of whom are shocked by the decision to invade a country with which they have close ties and shocked by the scale of sanctions imposed in response.

While the impact of sanctions is so far believed to be on the level of “inconvenience rather than hardship”, it is a major psychological blow to ordinary Russians middle classes to see brands like McDonalds, Ikea and Apple pull out of their country and find their credit cards no longer working, said one western official.

There are signs that an increasingly isolated Mr Putin has miscalculated not only the willingness of Ukrainians to resist and the west to respond in a united way, but also the readiness of Russians to support his military adventure, particularly the young who are used to the material advances which have become part of everyday life since the 1980s.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

(Press Association Images)

“I think he didn’t understand the west,” said the official. “I’m not sure that he understood Russia. Of course some older Russians remember the 1980s with affection. But many cultural and media figures spoke out immediately and 1.2 million have now signed the No War petition, small scale protesting – 13,000 arrests so far.

“Many of those who are protesting are those with exposure to the west through culture, education or visits, and they know that the state is lying despite the crackdown on independent media. This underlines that Putin doesn’t understand Russia, particularly not young, educated Russians.”

Middle-class professionals who are able to leave Russia are doing so in growing numbers, particularly families with teenage boys who are fearful that they will be conscripted.

Mr Putin made little attempt to prepare the Russian population – or his army – for the invasion and many were “utterly horrified” to see it happen, having thought Moscow would never repeat its mistake of invading Afghanistan in 1979.

However, western officials have little expectation that this will lead Mr Putin to seek an end to hostilities in talks taking place between his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Turkey on Thursday.

One said that the more likely outcome was “awful” suffering in Ukraine, economic recession and inflation in Russia, more repression and more deaths of young soldiers, ending with Russia more dependent than ever economically and politically on China.

“I think it’s a real betrayal of the younger generation, who are the ones protesting most and the ones who will suffer most from sanctions and loss of opportunities,” said the official. “This is a huge miscalculation but he will not apologise for it.”

However, western officials are increasingly convinced that Mr Putin has no favourable outcome left to him, even if he eventually succeeds in conquering substantial parts of Ukraine.

“I think it will end badly for Putin,” said one. But the official added: “That doesn’t mean it ends well for Ukraine at all. This could end very badly for both.

“Saying that it ends badly for Putin does not mean, the Russians not getting into Kyiv or doing fantastic damage to it with appalling humanitarian costs along the way.

“But my point would be, what happens then? What do they then do with it? What do they do with the rest of the country?”

Defence intelligence estimates suggest Russia would require hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Ukraine against the wishes of its population, said the official

“Is that really where Russia is going with this? It is clear that if anything, Russian actions, further forged a sense of Ukrainian identity and purpose. How are they going to cope with that?

“I’m not saying that they can’t occupy Kyiv and much of the country. It’s what happens after that and where does that go – that’s why I can’t see how it ends well for Putin.”

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