Both US and Ukrainian officials have said they cannot confirm claims from Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion that Russia dropped a “poisonous substance” on Mariupol.
Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the Azov Battalion, which is part of Ukraine’s National Guard, claimed three people had signs of chemical poisoning, although he said there were no “disastrous consequences” to their health.
According to Reuters, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said early Wednesday that it was not possible to draw “100% firm conclusions” about whether or not Russia used chemical weapons. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was not in a position to confirm the claims.
According to a report from Politico, US officials have raised questions about the credibility of the Azov battalion, noting that they might be eager to provoke a larger confrontation. The claims from Azov came after weeks of Biden administration officials accusing Russia of plotting to use chemical weapons in its war in Ukraine and warning of a response if they are used.
Last week, US officials told NBC News that Washington never saw evidence of Russia moving chemical weapons near Ukraine and said the claims were part of an information war against Moscow. According to the officials, the Biden administration had been publicizing information based on bad intelligence and without evidence to back it up.
Despite the lack of confirmation for the Azov battalion’s claims, the reports have still drawn threats from NATO members. “There are reports of the use of chemical weapons, we have not been able to verify those ourselves,” James Heappey, the UK’s armed forces minister, told Sky News. “But let’s be clear — if they are used at all then President Putin should know that all possible options are on the table in terms of how the West might respond.”