Johnson accuses ‘barbaric’ Kremlin of preparing to use chemical weapons

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Boris Johnson has accused Vladimir Putin of a “cynical” attempt to fabricate a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said he feared the “barbaric” Kremlin regime was ready to use the banned weapons as the invading Russian forces failed to make the expected progress.

His warning came as the UK tightened its sanctions against oligarchs deemed close to Putin’s regime, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

The UK has already accused the Russian government of war crimes, with the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol being the latest atrocity of the campaign.

Western allies fear that Moscow could go further and carry out a chemical attack, potentially under the guise of a “false flag” operation.

“What you hear about chemical weapons is straight out of the Russian playbook,” Mr Johnson told Sky News.

“They are starting to say that there are chemical weapons that are stockpiled by their adversaries or by the Americans, so that when they themselves deploy chemical weapons – as I fear – they have a kind of maskirovka, a fake story, ready to go.”

(PA graphics)

Referring to the Salisbury nerve agent attack, he added: “You saw it in Syria, you even saw it in the UK. I just note that this is what they are already doing. It’s a cynical and barbaric government, I’m afraid.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government was “very concerned” about the potential use of chemical weapons.

“We’ve seen Russia use these weapons before in conflict zones, but that would be a big mistake for Russia, on top of the big mistakes that Putin has already made,” she told CNN.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the world should be “on the lookout” for Russia’s use of chemical and biological weapons.

She said Russia’s “false allegations” about US bioweapons labs and alleged chemical weapons development in Ukraine could be an “obvious ploy” by the Kremlin to try to “justify its new premeditated attack, not provoked and unjustified against Ukraine”.

In other developments:

– Mr Abramovich was one of seven oligarchs hit by sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes.

– Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer used a visit to Estonia to call for tougher sanctions to “cripple Russia’s ability to function”.

– Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that some of the bureaucracy for Ukrainians wishing to come to the UK will be reduced from Tuesday.

– Cadbury owner Mondelez said he was “reducing all non-essential business” in Russia.

The Mariupol maternity hospital attack killed three people, including a child, and was widely condemned.

Defense Minister James Heappey told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that British intelligence believed the strike came from artillery rather than the air, but Britain was “still looking exactly (what happened)”.

The army veteran said that although Russian troops did not deliberately target the medical complex, the attack still constituted a war crime.

Mr Heappey told BBC Breakfast: ‘We wonder ‘how did this happen? Was it an indiscriminate use of artillery or missiles in a built-up area, or was a hospital explicitly targeted?

“Both are equally despicable, both, as the Ukrainians have pointed out, would amount to a war crime.”

Volodymyr Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

In a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday evening, Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed the Mariupol bombing “was further evidence” that Mr Putin was “acting with reckless disregard for the law international humanitarian organization”.

The World Health Organization said it had confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the “pathetic cries” of Moscow’s enemies a concern over civilian casualties and claimed the Mariupol hospital had been used as a base by fighters from a group of ‘far right.

Mr Lavrov held a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Turkey, but there was no breakthrough to end the fighting.

“I stressed the urgent need to allow humanitarian aid for Mariupol and a 24-hour ceasefire,” Kuleba said.

“Unfortunately, FM Lavrov seemed to have come to talk, not to decide. I hope he will convey Ukraine’s demands to Moscow.

Efforts continued to allow civilians to flee towns and cities, including Mariupol and the outskirts of Kyiv.

Conditions in Mariupol are grim, with food and water shortages and some trapped citizens resorting to melting snow for drinking.

POLITICS Ukraine
(PA graphics)

Western authorities have described the refugee situation in Ukraine as “unprecedented”, fearing the number of people fleeing could reach four million within days.

So far, around 2.2 million people have left Ukraine.

An official said: “I would like to highlight the scale of this, which we haven’t seen, certainly since the end of the Second World War, and it is a real challenge for all of us.”

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