New Eastern Outlook
by Brian Berletic
The US is once again waving around accusations against its adversaries of preparing to use “chemical weapons.” This time, the accused is Russia amid ongoing military operations in Ukraine.
The Guardian in its article, “‘Clear sign’ Putin is weighing up use of chemical weapons in Ukraine, says Biden,” would claim:
Russia’s false accusation that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons is a “clear sign” that a desperate Vladimir Putin is considering using them himself, Joe Biden has said.
The US president said Putin’s “back is against the wall and now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up including, asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true. I guarantee you,” Biden said at an event on Monday.
The article would also claim:
“They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what’s about to come.”
Putin “knows there’ll be severe consequences because of the united Nato front,” he said, without specifying what actions the alliance would take.
However, US President Joe Biden did not explain “how” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s back was “against the wall,” or explain why Russia would use chemical weapons if Russia was also aware that “there’ll be severe consequences.”
President Biden’s latest claims fall within a now established pattern of US foreign policy using false claims regarding “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) to create a pretext for otherwise unjustified and indefensible acts of military aggression.
The US has used this tactic in the lead up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Claims that Iraq had WMDs were later revealed as a deliberate lie to sell to the public what was otherwise a war of aggression aimed at regime change.
At the time, President Putin challenged US claims. The BBC in a 2002 article titled, “President Putin’s doubts over Iraq,” would note:
Mr Putin remains unconvinced. He still sees no need for a new resolution.
And today he dismissed Mr Blair’s dossier of evidence against Saddam as propaganda.
Russia has not in its possession any trustworthy data, Mr Putin said, that could support the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
He had not received from his partners such information as yet.
And by 2004, the Guardian in its article, “There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” would report:
1,625 UN and US inspectors spent two years searching 1,700 sites at a cost of more than $1bn. Yesterday they delivered their verdict.
Saddam Hussein destroyed his last weapons of mass destruction more than a decade ago and his capacity to build new ones had been dwindling for years by the time of the Iraq invasion, according to a comprehensive US report released yesterday.
By 2012, when the US-sponsored regime change war in neighboring Syria stalled, the US once again began accusing adversaries of using WMDs – and “chemical weapons” more specifically. The attacks were clearly staged by US-sponsored militants, often just on the eve of a major victory for Syrian forces, and carried out specifically to serve as a pretext for more direct US military intervention.
By 2014, through a combination of citing “chemical weapons” and the spread of the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS), the US did eventually invade and occupy eastern Syria. By 2015, Russia also intervened, but at the invitation of the Syrian government, thus checkmating US attempts to replicate its WMD-predicated regime change war in literally the very next nation over from Iraq on the map.
By 2018, despite dubious and clearly politically-motivated “investigations” carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), it would be admitted even by them that anti-government militants in Syria had been confirmed to have carried out at least some of the chemical attacks assigned to the Syrian government, according to Reuters.
Other instances the OPCW blamed on the Syrian government involved sites the OPCW never accessed or directly investigated including the 2017 incident at Khan Sheikhoun. Their conclusions were drawn by examining “evidence” provided to them by the very same circles of militants they themselves admit had carried out chemical attacks elsewhere.
As was explained at the time, and has been reiterated by even mainstream Western analysts today in regards to recent claims that Russia is preparing to use “chemical weapons,” chemical weapons are extremely ineffective and are in fact far less effective than even ordinary conventional weapons.
In a 2013 Independent article by Robert Fisk titled, “They may be fighting for Syria, not Assad. They may also be winning,” a Syrian intelligence officer, when asked if they were using chemical weapons, was quoted as saying:
Why should we use chemical weapons when our Mig aircraft and their bombs cause infinitely more destruction?
Far from a baseless claim made by a random Syrian intelligence officer, the effectiveness of chemical weapons, or lack thereof, has been the subject of serious study since the inception of such weapons.
A 1990 US Marine Corps study of the 1980’s Iran-Iraq War, under “Appendix B – Chemicals,” would explain in detail:
Chemical weapons require quite particular weather and geographic conditions for optimum effectiveness. Given the relative nonpersistence of all agents employed during this war, including mustard, there was only a brief window of employment opportunity both daily and seasonally, when the agents could be used.
The report continued (emphasis added):
We are uncertain as to the relative effectiveness of nerve agents since those which were employed are by nature much less persistent than mustard. In order to gain killing concentrations of these agents, pre-dawn attacks are best, conducted in areas where the morning breezes are likely to blow away from friendly positions. Chemical weapons have a low kill ratio. Just as in WWI, during which the ratio of deaths to injured from chemicals was 2-3 percent, that figure appears to be borne out again in this war although reliable data on casualties are very difficult to obtain. We deem it remarkable that the death rate should hold at such a low level even with the introduction of nerve agents. If those rates are correct, as they well may be, this further reinforces the position that we must not think of chemical weapons as “a poor man’s nuclear weapon.” While such weapons have great psychological potential, they are not killers or destroyers on a scale with nuclear or biological weapons.
In other words, chemical weapons require very specific conditions to be effective, require high concentrations in order to have any impact on the battlefield, and still fall far short of producing the amount of death and destruction conventional weapons are capable of producing – a fact that has only become more poignant since the report was written in 1990.
Precision guided munitions, more effective unguided munitions, and systems used to deliver them both have evolved by leaps and bounds. No matter what “innovations” Western policymakers imagine or claim have been secretly made in the realm of chemical weaponry, their dispersal and dissipation in the air is a matter of physics that has remained a constant from WW1 to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s and persists to this day.
This fact is so well-established it is often even accounted for when otherwise irrationally accusing Russia of preparing to use chemical weapons today in Ukraine.
The Harvard Gazette in a March 23, 2022 article titled, “Russia’s remaining weapons are horrific and confounding,” would admit:
From a purely military perspective, there are no military targets that nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons could destroy that Russia can’t destroy with its airpower and rockets. The main purpose of using them would probably be to try to shock the Ukrainians into surrender.
Yet, even trying to “shock the Ukrainians into surrender” could also be done more effectively and with a much lower political price with conventional weapons. The article also admits that nothing is known about what chemical weapons if any Russia even possesses – making these accusations even more absurd.
When all of this information is considered together we are left with claims made by verified serial liars who have an established track record of lying about adversaries “using” chemical weapons – chemical weapons the West’s own experts admit fall far short in terms of effectiveness on the battlefield compared to even the crudest of conventional weapons.
The West also admits that “Putin” knows “there’ll be severe consequences” and the use of chemical weapons will be one of the few ways the US and the rest of NATO may attempt to justify a more direct intervention in Ukraine and thus derail Russian objectives.
There is literally no reason whatsoever for Russia to employ these weapons even if they had them – since the West has provided no evidence they even do.
In 2017, even the New York Times in its article, “Russia Destroys Chemical Weapons, and Faults US for Not Doing So,” would admit:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia presided over the destruction of his country’s last declared chemical weapons on Wednesday, describing the elimination as a “historic event” and complaining that the United States has failed to purge its own chemical arsenal.
While critics and skeptics may claim Russia still could possess undeclared chemical weapons, it should be noted that the US itself has failed to eliminate its own declared stockpiles.
Putin’s Back is Not “Against the Wall,” Ukraine’s is
The irrational narrative goes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is so desperate to win an otherwise “stalled” military operation in Ukraine that he would risk using chemical weapons to regain momentum.
It has already been established, however, that such weapons will not provide any additional advantage on the battlefield Russia’s still very extensive supply of conventional weapons already lend it.
In fact, it is the US Department of Defense itself that has – one month into Russia’s military operations – admitted that most of Russia’s combat power allotted to operations in Ukraine remain at Russia’s disposal.
A Defense Department briefing held on March 21, 2022 would include in its transcript a senior defense official’s response to questions regarding Russia’s combat power one month into its operations in Ukraine, revealing:
I would say that today, we assess Russian combat power at just below 90 percent. And again, you have to remember, yes, they’re expending an awful lot, but they also built up an awful lot since the early fall, and they just have a lot available to them.
The official would reiterate, noting:
…as we said way back in the fall, that Mr. Putin had arranged an oppressive alignment of combined-arms capability that he still has the vast majority available to him.
Other US Department of Defense briefings held around the one-month mark would note that no major attempt has been made yet to reinforce Russian operations inside Ukraine, nor have there been any major moves to resupply depots prepared ahead of the operations which began in late February 2022.
Russia has the vast majority of its military power available to it, and the sluggish nature of its operations can be easily accounted for along two lines of reasoning.
First, Russia’s operations in Ukraine are being carried out on a scale no other military operation in modern warfare has been conducted on. Ukraine has almost double the population Iraq had in 2003 when US forces invaded. Ukraine is also approximately 38% larger in terms of land area than Iraq.
Second, Russia’s stated and observed method of moving into and across Ukraine is systematic and methodical. Just as Russia assisted the Syrian Arab Army in doing for the last 7 years in Syria when taking back major population centers, Russia is now doing likewise in Ukraine.
This process includes the encirclement of major population centers to cut off fighters from reinforcements and additional ammunition, weapons, and other supplies, the establishment of corridors to evacuate the civilian population, and then the incremental seizure of territory from armed militants with intermittent ceasefires and negotiations for various factions to surrender and evacuate the area before fighting continues, until the entire population center is secured and order reestablished.
Russia had successfully assisted Syria in taking back virtually every major populated center in Syria with the exception of Idlib to the north and US-occupied Syrian territory east of the Euphrates River. Russia did this with much more complex logistical lines stretched out much further than what is being used in Ukraine today.
To imagine the same military that achieved such effective results in Syria is now “bungling” operations in Ukraine is wishful thinking at best. Western “experts” who predicted Russia’s military starving to death “in three days” for the last month predicate such predictions on tactical vignettes provided almost exclusively through war propaganda produced by Ukraine’s military and central government. These predictions also imagine that any actual shortcomings in Russia’s planning and execution will be left unaddressed and across the theater of operations for days, weeks, or even months. This inability to think in “four dimensions” and account for Russia observing and addressing shortcomings and thus changing the course of any given prediction before reaching “deadlines” has led to a long string of embarrassing and unfulfilled “predictions” made by supposed Western military experts.
The amount of military power the US itself admits Russia still has at its disposal, taken together with Russia’s already observable competence in retaking populated centers methodically in Syria, coupled together with the true nature of chemical weapons and their inefficiency on the battlefield only further removes the possibility of Russia employing chemical weapons for any reason in Ukraine.
If chemical weapons are used, it will be by those whose backs are truly against the wall – a Ukrainian regime and its US-NATO-armed forces being encircled in every major population center in the country – with the exception of Mariupol and Kherson which have both already been secured.
Time is on Russia’s side and short of any major Western military intervention, will succeed in whatever its actual objectives are in Ukraine. The necessity of accusing Russia of preparing to use chemical weapons is a move of familiar desperation and duplicity regularly employed by the West specifically because Russia will otherwise be successful in Ukraine.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.