President Biden on Wednesday raised alarms about the possibility that Russia will escalate its war on Ukraine with chemical weapons.
“I think it’s a real threat,” Mr. Biden said of Russia using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
Mr. Biden’s remarks to reporters came as he departed the White House for a four-day trip to Europe. His schedule includes a summit with NATO allies and a meeting with Poland’s president in Warsaw.
It is the second time this week that Mr. Biden has suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as the Russian military struggles in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
“His back is against the wall,” Mr. Biden said at an event Monday. “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,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Putin.
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Russia has denied possessing chemical weapons, claiming it destroyed the last of such weapons in 2017.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a month ago, the Biden administration has expressed concern that Mr. Putin is searching for a pretext to use chemical and biological weapons in the war.
Russian officials last week alleged that the U.S. is developing bioweapons in Ukraine, a charge American officials have dismissed as “false” and “laughable.” CIA Director William Burns told Congress earlier this month that the claims are a way for Russia to justify the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine.
“This is something … very much a part of Russia‘s playbook. They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere. So it’s something we take very seriously,” Mr. Burns said.
Mr. Biden has vowed that Moscow will “pay a severe price” if it deploys chemical weapons against Ukraine. However, the White House has been vague about what that response would be, including whether it would result in U.S. military intervention.
When asked this month if the U.S. would deploy troops to Ukraine if Russia uses chemical weapons, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she wouldn’t discuss hypotheticals.
“What we’re saying right now is they have the capacity and capability. I’m also not going to get into intelligence. But the president’s intention of sending the U.S. military into Ukraine against Russia has not changed,” Ms. Psaki said.
Russia has been linked to the use of chemical weapons in the past. In 2018, former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned in the United Kingdom with Novichok, a nerve agent.
Other incidents include the poisoning of Putin critics Viktor Yushchenko and Alexander Litvinenko.
When Russian troops fought alongside Bashar Assad’s government forces in Syria, the nerve agent sarin was used against civilians, killing more than 1,400 people. Russia was accused of helping Syria cover up the use of chemical weapons, which both nations denied.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog, found undeclared toxins and munitions during a visit to Syria in 2020.