‘Clear sign’ Putin is weighing up use of chemical weapons in Ukraine, says Biden

US president says Russian leader’s ‘back is against the wall’ and warns of severe consequences of any such attack

Russia’s false accusation that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons is a “clear sign” that a desperate Vladimir Putin is considering using them himself, Joe Biden has said.

The US president said 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. I guarantee you,” Biden said at an event on Monday.

“They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what’s about to come.”

Putin “knows there’ll be severe consequences because of the united Nato front,” he said, without specifying what actions the alliance would take.

The remarks echo previous comments by officials in Washington and allied countries, who have accused Russia of spreading an unproven claim that Ukraine had a biological weapons program as a possible prelude to potentially launching its own biological or chemical attacks.

Biden spoke after the Pentagon said it had seen “clear evidence” Russian forces were committing war crimes and that it was helping collect evidence. Last week, the US president said he thought Putin was a “war criminal”, as well as a “murderous dictator” and “thug”, comments the Russian foreign ministry said were “unworthy of a state figure of such a high rank” and risked rupturing US-Russian ties.

The UN’s international court of justice has already ordered Moscow to halt its invasion, and a prosecutor at the international criminal court has launched a war crimes investigation.

On Monday night, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy again urged direct talks with Putin, saying: “Without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war.”

He also said his country will never bow to ultimatums from Russia and cities directly under attack, including the capital, Kyiv, and Mariupol and Kharkiv would not accept Russian occupation.

In other developments:

  • The Ukrainian military claimed on Tuesday that Russian forces have stockpiles of ammunition and food that will last for “no more than three days”. Officials said the situation was similar with fuel. It also claimed about 300 Russia servicemen refused to carry out orders in the Okhtyrka district of the Sumy region. The claims have not been independently verified.

  • Biden talked to the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy on Monday as part of his effort to maintain a unified front to Moscow, amid signs of cracks within the EU on how far to go in imposing sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

  • Earlier in the day, Biden warned the US business community of intelligence pointing to a growing Russian cyber threat and urging companies to “immediately” prepare defences. “It’s part of Russia’s playbook” in response to sanctions, he said

  • Almost 10,000 Russian soldiers may have already been killed in the war in Ukraine, and more than 16,000 wounded, according to defence ministry figures reported in a pro-Kremlin tabloid newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda. Previously, the official death toll was 498. The paper later released a statement claiming it had been hacked.

  • Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, heralded new plans to develop an “EU Rapid Deployment Capacity” that could allow the bloc to swiftly deploy up to 5,000 troops for different types of crises. He insisted a “European army” will not be created.

  • An Associated Press reporter has told the story of the desperate conditions inside the besieged city of Mariupol after spending more than two weeks there, being hunted by Russian soldiers amid the shelling.

  • In Kyiv, a brand new shopping centre was destroyed in a missile attack that killed at least eight people, the largest attack yet on the capital. Here, witnesses tell their story of the destruction of Retroville.

Russia’s defence ministry has accused Kyiv, without providing evidence, of planning a chemical attack against its own people in order to accuse Moscow of using chemical weapons in the invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a month ago.

Earlier this month, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, warning him of consequences for “any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine”. The White House did not specify what those consequences would be.

Biden also said Russia used a hypersonic missile to destroy a weapons depot on Saturday “because it’s the only thing they can get through with absolute certainty”.

An administration official clarified on Monday evening that Biden was confirming Russia’s use of such an advanced missile, but noted that the impact of the attack was unknown. One senior US defence official had earlier raised questions about the legitimacy of the Russian account.

Russia’s invasion has largely stalled, failing to capture any major city, but causing massive destruction to residential areas.

With Reuters

• This article was amended on 22 March 2022 to remove a superfluous and misleading word from the subheading


Samantha Lock, Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, and Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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