Ukraine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention


Russia has accused Ukraine of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) by producing and deploying chemical weapons near the Donbass town of Avdeevka. The discovery was made public by Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, head of Russia’s chemical and biological defense forces, during a briefing on July 8, 2024.

According to Kirillov, engineering troops discovered a laboratory that was allegedly used to produce hydrogen cyanide, a highly toxic agent used as a chemical weapon during World War I.

The alleged facility is located near Avdeevka, a fortified Donbass town that Russia claims to have liberated in February. The laboratory was found in a partially destroyed building within an industrial area, which also housed a chemical processing plant.

According to Kirillov, the site contained a rotary evaporator, several chemical reactors, and protective clothing, including US-made gas masks and Polish hazmat suits. Samples taken from the facility, analyzed in Russian military laboratories, reportedly contained traces of sulfuric acid and sodium cyanide, both precursors to hydrogen cyanide production. Kirillov claimed that traces of cyanide anions were found on multiple pieces of equipment, indicating that the laboratory was actively used to manufacture poisonous substances.

Kirillov stated that the facility had the capability to produce at least three kilograms of chemical agents per day, even with a minimal staff of two or three people. Hydrogen cyanide is extremely dangerous, capable of killing a person if they inhale just 70 to 80 milligrams. The presence of Schedule 3 chemicals, which have legitimate industrial uses but can be weaponized, further supports the allegations of chemical weapon production.

In his briefing, Kirillov highlighted several incidents that he claimed involved the use of hydrogen cyanide by Ukrainian forces. In May 2024, civilians in the Avdeevka region reportedly exhibited symptoms consistent with hydrogen cyanide poisoning following drone attacks by Ukrainian military forces. Another incident was reported in Russia’s Belgorod Region, where fragments of Ukrainian ammunition allegedly contained traces of hydrogen cyanide.

Kirillov also cited a Ukrainian prisoner of war, Sergey Batyr, who allegedly confirmed that laboratories storing chemical agents were used to manufacture kamikaze drones. These claims are part of a broader narrative by Russia accusing Ukraine of using chemical weapons with the support of Western nations.

This is not the first time Russia has accused Ukraine of violating international conventions related to weapons of mass destruction. In March 2022, Russia accused Ukraine of running a secret biological weapons program with the assistance of the United States. Ukraine has consistently denied these allegations, and the Pentagon has dismissed Russia’s claims as “absurd” and “laughable”.

More recently, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have thwarted an attempt by Ukrainian special services to commit a terrorist act in the Zaporozhye Region using an analog of the BZ chemical warfare agent. BZ, known under NATO classification as 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, is prohibited under the CWC and induces severe hallucinations, delirium, and physical incapacitation. The FSB released a video showing the arrest of an alleged saboteur and several vials purportedly containing the toxic substance.

Moscow’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Kirill Lysogosky, has accused Western nations of supplying these chemical warfare agents to Ukraine.

Kirillov has been critical of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), accusing it of failing to respond to evidence presented by Russia. According to Kirillov, the OPCW is being manipulated by the United States to target its political opponents while ignoring violations committed by Ukraine. He claimed that Ukrainian forces had used banned chemical warfare agents on the battlefield with the support of Washington. This includes allegations from last year that Ukrainian troops dropped US-made gas grenades containing the “CS” compound on Russian positions. CS is classified as a riot-control agent but can cause severe health effects when used in high concentrations.

Kirillov also claimed that Ukraine is incorporating the use of chemical weapons into its military doctrine with the backing of Western allies. He cited an order placed by Ukraine for hundreds of thousands of antidotes, gas masks, and other personal protective equipment with the European Union as evidence of this support.

The international community has yet to respond definitively to Russia’s latest accusations. The OPCW, established to enforce the CWC and ensure the destruction of chemical weapons, faces significant challenges in addressing these claims impartially, given the geopolitical tensions involved. The credibility of both Russia and Ukraine is at stake, with each side accusing the other of misinformation and violations of international law.

If substantiated, the allegations against Ukraine could have severe consequences for its international standing and relations with Western allies. Conversely, if the accusations are proven to be unfounded, they could further isolate Russia diplomatically and damage its credibility on the global stage.

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has seen numerous allegations of war crimes and violations of international law from both sides.

The use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, represents a serious escalation with potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences. As the situation continues to unfold, the need for transparent, impartial investigation and accountability remains paramount to uphold international norms and protect civilian lives.

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