The Biden administration has warned Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as the White House rejected Russian claims of illegal chemical weapons development in the country it has invaded.
This week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova — without evidence — accused Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons labs with US support.
In a series of tweets, White House 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 using such weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine itself.
“This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” said Psaki.
“Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.”
The US has warned for months about Russian “false flag” operations to create a pretext for the invasion. Wednesday's warning suggested Russia might seek to create a pretence for further escalating the two-week-old conflict
Dmitry Chumakov, a Russian deputy UN ambassador, repeated the accusation Wednesday, urging Western media to cover “the news about secret biological laboratories in Ukraine”.
The Russian embassy in London has tweeted accusations, without giving evidence, that Ukrainian laboratories funded by the US have been developing biological weapons and that Ukrainian nationalists have been planning a chemical attack.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Wednesday called the Russian claim "a bunch of malarkey". A United Nations spokesman said the UN and the World Health Organization, which was working with the Ukrainian government, had no information to confirm Moscow's allegations.
Russia has used chemical weapons before in carrying out assassination attempts against Putin's enemies like Alexey Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. It also supports the Assad government in Syria which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decade-long civil war.
Russia has a long history of spreading disinformation about US biological weapons research. In the 1980s, Russian intelligence spread the conspiracy theory that the US created HIV in a lab. More recently, Russian state media have spread theories about dangerous research at labs in Ukraine and Georgia.
The conspiracy theory about US-run labs in Ukraine has been picked up by Chinese state-controlled media and is now circulating in online message boards popular with COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and far-right groups in the US.