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The litmus test of the US-NATO leadership in the Ukraine war

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(Photo: Envato Elements)
A month since the confounding invasion of Ukraine and with no significant breakthrough discernible yet, the possibility of the use of chemical weapons by Russia might not weigh as heavily on its neighbor state as it did a few weeks ago. However, the threat of nuclear strikes by Russia is not entirely absent in this war. اضافة اعلان

US President Joe Biden said that while Russia has made unproven accusations that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons, Putin is explicitly contemplating using such weapons against Ukraine. Washington’s allies and the UN said that Russia had no evidence backing its claims against Ukraine. 

Two of Biden’s statements in particular deserve greater attention. In one he said, “He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what’s about to come”. Does this imply that Putin’s claim is a prelude to his next aggressive act: deploying chemical weapons to cause further annihilation of Ukraine and possibly trigger World War III?

While Russia ratified the Chemical Weapon Convention in 1997 and declared the destruction of its stockpiles, it is still widely suspected to have supplies of chemical weapons. Amongst these are blister, choking, and nerve agents used in the past, including alleged use of Sarin and Chorine gas in Syria.

Granted, the US also has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons: in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971, white phosphorus in Fallujah against Iraqi insurgents in 2004, and lending relentless support to Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds in 1988. However in the case of Ukraine, what matters are actions that could precipitate an international crisis — a direct conflict between Western powers and Russia.

The exchange of accusations and blame between Washington and Moscow has escalated as Russia’s defense ministry accused Ukraine of laying the groundwork for a chemical attack against Ukrainians with the intention of pinning the blame on Russia.

UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu denied the presence of any biological weapons program in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s claim that Ukrainian labs are being supported by the US with the objective of creating ethno-specific bio-agents.

Biden’s second statement, however ambiguous, is also worth reflecting on: “Russia will pay a ‘severe price’ if they use chemicals [in Ukraine].” Biden and allies did not explicitly reveal what measures NATO would take if Putin were to use chemical weapons. “The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” Biden said during his visit to Brussels.

Neither would French President Emmanuel Macron reveal NATO’s specific response to Russia’s actions: “Strategic ambiguity and discretion are more effective” than red lines, he said. However, such alleged preparedness for certain acts can be misconstrued and may even backfire, given Putin’s single-minded resolve to bring Ukraine to its knees. 

Facing staunch resistance in Ukraine and, as a result, deciding to withdraw from the northern areas of the country, the possibility of the use of chemical weapons by Russia cannot be downplayed or outright refuted.

This war is not a test of who is right, but of who is the mightiest. Russia, which could not care less about devastation and carnage, seems determined to prove it is. A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would only resort to nuclear weapons if its existence were threatened.
The tactical analysis that seasoned diplomats and military strategists have been brandishing in the media should avoid attempting to predict unattainable scenarios, especially in this war.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was quick to say that NATO members might agree to send additional assistance to Ukraine, including military equipment to bolster Kyiv’s defense against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.

NATO members face a dilemma: war against nuclear-armed Russia (the key energy supplier to Europe) and supporting Ukraine, being careful to avoid crossing Russian red lines amidst high uncertainty as to what really counts. 

In critical conflicts like this one involving Russia, it is a mistake to predict the future course of events. The tactical analysis that seasoned diplomats and military strategists have been brandishing in the media should avoid attempting to predict unattainable scenarios, especially in this war.

A military response of NATO members must not rely on ill-advised assumptions. Biden and allies should facilitate dialogue, through backdoor diplomacy if necessary, to eventually restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.


The writer is a freelance journalist and geopolitical expert based in India.


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