March 24, 2022 | Defense One

Deter Russia’s Use of Chemical Weapons in Ukraine

How Biden handles threats will dissuade Moscow and other adversaries from using these weapons—or encourage it.
March 24, 2022 | Defense One

Deter Russia’s Use of Chemical Weapons in Ukraine

How Biden handles threats will dissuade Moscow and other adversaries from using these weapons—or encourage it.

Excerpt

President Joe Biden warned on Monday that Vladimir Putin “is considering using” chemical weapons in Ukraine, pointing to baseless Russian allegations that Ukraine has these banned weapons. Moscow, which has actually used such weapons in attempts to assassinate opponents of the Putin regime, spouted similar lies about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As Russian forces suffer heavy losses and increasing resort to scorched-earth tactics to overcome staunch Ukrainian resistance, Putin may believe that chemical weapons attacks—blamed on Ukraine—could provide a military advantage or boost his war’s domestic legitimacy.

The Biden administration and its allies should take the long-overdue step of suspending Russia from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, which is dedicated to eliminating chemical weapons. At the same time, the allies should strive to deter Putin by warning that Russia will pay a price on the battlefield if it uses chemical weapons.

In 2018, Russia’s military intelligence service used a debilitating nerve agent, Novichok, in the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom. While the Skripals survived, a mother of three was killed. Moscow struck again in 2020, employing Novichok to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, this time inside Russia. After both attacks, Washington and its allies levied economic sanctions against Russia, but they failed to convince Putin to abandon his chemical weapons program.

Anthony Ruggiero was formerly senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the U.S. National Security Council. Andrea Stricker is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Follow them on Twitter @NatSecAnthony and @StrickerNonpro. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Military and Political Power Russia Ukraine