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White House warns Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, rejects false ‘conspiracy’ of U.S. biolabs

White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily news briefing on March 9. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Biden administration warned Wednesday that Russia could use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, as it rejected Russia’s claims that U.S. biological weapons labs are operating in the war-torn country.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday called Russia’s claims “preposterous” and warned of “disinformation” campaigns.

“We took note of Russia’s false claims about alleged U.S. biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine,” she tweeted. “We’ve also seen Chinese officials echo these conspiracy theories.”

During a Thursday White House press briefing, Psaki doubled down on her comments, saying Russia has a history of “inventing outright lies” as she continued to push against Russia’s allegations that the U.S. is developing biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Psaki also warned Thursday that Russia has the “capacity” to use weapons like these against Ukraine.

When asked what evidence the U.S. has to back the claim that Russia has these types of weapons, Psaki said she wouldn’t “get into specific intelligence” but repeated that Russia has a “a large biological and chemical weapons program.”

“The main issue that prompted my Twitter thread yesterday was that Russia has a history also of inventing outright lies like this, which is the suggestion that the United States has a chemical and biological weapons program or Ukraine does,” Psaki said.

“Russia is the country that has a chemical and biological weapons program. So the objective was to make clear the inaccuracy of the information, the misinformation they’re trying to put out.”

Psaki also said her goal was to “make clear to the world that they not only have the capacity, they have a history of using chemical and biological weapons, and that in this moment we should have our eyes open for that possibility.”

Psaki, however, wouldn’t say what the U.S. reaction would be if Russia conducted a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” she said, adding that President Biden’s intention not to send U.S. forces to Ukraine “has not changed.”

Psaki on Wednesday said the United States was in “full compliance” with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, which bar countries from developing or possessing such weapons.

She said Russia has long “maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law” and cited its military intervention in Syria in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its suspected poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny in 2020 with a Novichok-like nerve agent.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false-flag operation using them. It’s a clear pattern,” she added.

Psaki made the comments after Russian officials accused the United States of developing such weapons in Ukraine.

Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said it was “obvious that in the wake of the special military operation, the Pentagon started having serious concerns about secret biological experiments uncovered on the Ukrainian territory.”

Dmitry Chumakov, a Russian deputy United Nations ambassador, urged Western media on Wednesday to cover “the news about secret biological laboratories in Ukraine,” the Associated Press reported.

Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also told reporters Wednesday that Russia had concluded that “in Ukrainian laboratories close to our borders, components of biological weapons were being developed.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who recently voted against a House resolution supporting Ukraine, amplified Russia’s claims Wednesday on Twitter, saying he had not taken “the concern over Ukrainian biological labs seriously … until now.”

On Thursday, Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss told the press the United Kingdom was “very concerned about the potential use of chemical weapons,” and said such a move would be a “grave mistake” on the part of Russia.

Britain’s armed forces minister, James Heappey, told the BBC earlier on Thursday that if Russian President Vladimir Putin did seek to use chemical weapons, he should expect an “international response.” Heappey did not say whether he meant from NATO or individual countries.

The British minister said he had read “very high-level intelligence” last week about the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons and praised the United States for making public its intelligence on the issue as a deterrent to Moscow.

“President Putin needs to be clear that the use of chemical weapons is just the most despicable thing that anybody can imagine,” Heappey said.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to get into any firm commitment right now about where that red line sits. But I think President Putin needs to be very clear that when other countries have used chemical weapons, it has caused an international response,” he added.

Grace Moon contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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