Despite warnings from the White House and elsewhere, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates believes the chances of Russian President Vladimir Putin using chemical and nuclear weapons in his war on Ukraine are minimal.
After military and civilians got respiratory problems, a chemical watchdog agency is currently investigating Ukrainian claims that Russia used a chemical weapon in the port city of Mariupol.
“I believe the chances of him using chemical or nuclear weapons are fairly low at this moment for a lot of reasons,” Gates said at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event.
“Biological weapons are basically uncontrollable, so I don’t think that’s going to happen.” We’ve seen the Russians employ chemical weapons previously, so it’s feasible. They’ve already used them in Syria. He added, “We’ve seen them elsewhere.”
He did say, though, that utilizing chemical weapons would not be in Russia’s strategic interests.
“With the exception of one area in Ukraine, there isn’t much of a mass of Ukrainian soldiers at this point,” he said. “It’s hard to see what the military target of a chemical weapon would be that would have strategic significance that would outweigh the potential international consequences of using those weapons.”
According to Gates, the Ukrainian people’s will is too strong for a chemical weapon to be effective in shattering their spirit, and that it might even have the opposite effect.
“The usefulness of a chemical weapon, if you can call it that,” Gates added, “is primarily as a fear weapon, as a means of attempting to break the will of the Ukrainian people, and I think what we’ve seen so far is that we’re actually passed that moment.”
“The Ukrainians have passed that test,” he continued, “and I believe that the use of chemical weapons would just add more steel to their spine at this time.”
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After Moscow claimed the US was storing biological weapons in Ukrainian territory, the White House warned more than a month ago that Russia could deploy chemical weapons in Ukraine.
The United States, NATO, and the World Health Organization have all begun to plan for such assaults.
While Gates believes the US and NATO would not retaliate “in kind” in the event of a Russian chemical assault, he believes the West would be more forceful in its aid to Ukraine.
“I believe that the use of a chemical weapon, and even more so a tactical nuclear bomb, would re-open the discourse about no-fly zones, about sending heavier, much heavier, and newer weaponry to the Ukrainians, and so on,” he added.
According to Gates, Putin has no military justification for using targeted nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
“Again, what does it have in terms of military value?” “It’s truly more of a terror weapon at this point, and I believe the repercussions of crossing that threshold are fairly serious,” he added, emphasizing that such weapons pose a geographical risk.
“There, the winds are from the west. As a result, radiation from the use of tactical nuclear weapons in eastern Ukraine will end up in Russia, according to Gates.