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US clarifies position on use of chemical weapons

The United States has no intention of using chemical weapons under any circumstances, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday. The comment comes after President Joe Biden said on Thursday that a Russian deployment of such substances in Ukraine would trigger “a response in kind.”

Biden’s statement led to speculation that the US would intervene militarily in Ukraine if Russia used chemical weapons, whether by conventional means or by using chemical weapons of its own. Biden, who has thus far ruled out direct American involvement in the ongoing conflict, added that “the nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”

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Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Sullivan said on Friday that Biden’s use of the phrase “response in kind” was referring to proportionality, and that “there will be a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons.”

Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have all warned Russia that such a move would be met with a harsh response, though none have laid out what that it would be. 

Washington and its allies have accused Moscow of preparing to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, but Russia has rejected the accusations, and countered that Kiev might be planning a “false flag” attack to pin the blame on Russia in order to draw in NATO intervention.

Meanwhile, Russia has published documents that it says show the US was funding biological weapons research in several Ukrainian laboratories. American officials have described Moscow’s claims as “disinformation,” although they have confirmed the labs’ existence, and the US government has admitted to working with Ukraine to “consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern.”

Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and end the conflict with the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia ended up recognizing the two as independent states, at which point they asked for military aid.

Russia demands that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two Donbass republics by force.

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