The US government have assessed that Russian President, Vladimir Putin may use chemical weapons in Ukraine first before resorting to a nuclear confrontation with NATO if his troops continue to lose ground.
According to a new report by Politico, the US concerns, according to six people with knowledge of the matter, come amid a push by the administration to ensure allies are prepared for such an event, as well as to mobilize new resources and investments in manufacturing of detection systems for when the chemicals are used.
The US administration officials, who reportedly spoke on condition of anonymity before they could discuss sensitive, internal deliberations, include U.S. and Defense Department officials, Politico reported.
The report adds that many Department of Defence officials believe the fighting will stall during the winter months, with neither side able to take much ground.
But in the case of continued battlefield losses, or a complete collapse of the Russian army, US officials working believe that Moscow might resort to employing chemical weapons — including those the country has been associated with using in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
Such an attack would involve chemicals that are easily concealed, making it more difficult for Western countries to pin on Moscow, one official said.
Russia could use pharmaceutical-based agents — known colloquially as PBAs, that official said. Some chemicals could be used for a mass casualty attack by being turned into an aerosol or used in munitions to inflict damage on a large group of people.
The report adds that the U.S. has long known that Russia is investing in increasing its chemical weapons capability.
Senators this fall were briefed about Russia’s chemical weapon stockpile and the threat in Ukraine, according to a congressional aide. But the concerns about their potential use in Ukraine come as U.S. officials increasingly believe that Russia will resort to unconventional warfare if it continues to lose ground.
The report comes after the Pentagon sent teams to Eastern European countries to refresh their armed forces on procedures in case of a chemical or biological threat. Meanwhile, the United States has provided Kyiv with chemical, biological and nuclear protective equipment as part of billions of dollars in security assistance.
Senior officials are also pushing to rework the U.S. approach to both preparing and responding to potential chemical weapons attacks by various actors, including Russia.
The US is reportedly developing plans to increase investment in manufacturing capabilities for early detection systems and wearable technology such as masks. It also wants to reevaluate how to gather better data and intelligence on countries’ capabilities and stockpiles.
In 2018, Russia used Novichok, a nerve agent in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, an outspoken opponent of Putin, and Sergei Skripal, a British citizen who used to work as a Russian intelligence officer.Skripal and his daughter needed medical intervention after coming into contact with Novichok that year.
In 2020, Navalny was hospitalized in Germany where officials said there was “unequivocal proof” he was poisoned via Novichok while aboard a flight. Both men are still alive.
“We’ve always been aware that they have the means and capability to use these types of weapons,” said one Pentagon official. “Our assessment remains the same. We maintain close observation of this conflict, but we’ve not seen anything that would make us change our posture.”