Global concerns that Russia will resort to chemical weapons in Ukraine were rising Tuesday after a separatist spokesman suggested to a Russian TV audience that Ukrainian separatists may use chemicals against soldiers holed up at a giant steel factory in Mariupol “to smoke them out of there.”
Eduard Basurin, who said 80% of the Mariupol port had been “liberated” by Russian-backed separatists, was later quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying separatist forces “haven’t used any chemical weapons in Mariupol.” The comment came after a Ukrainian unit defending Mariupol claimed without providing evidence that the drone had dropped a poisonous substance on its positions.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the reports of chemical weapons use “deeply concerning.” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said officials were working to “urgently” investigate what she called “a callous escalation” of the war.
“One of the spokespeople of the invaders said they are considering using chemical weapons against the defenders of Mariupol,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “We take it very seriously. I want to remind world leaders that a possible use of chemical weapons had already been discussed by the Russian military.”
Chemical weapons or not, the world should be prepared for a barbaric assault by Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, Kirby said.
“I think sadly we can all expect that those same brutal tactics, that same disregard for civilian life and civilian infrastructure will probably continue as they now focus in a more geographically-confined area in the Donbas,” Kirby said.
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► A planned cyberattack by Russian military hackers on the besieged nation’s power grid has been foiled, Ukrainian authorities said.
► The World Trade Organization revised its 2022 trade forecast downward to 3% growth from 4.7%, saying the war and continued COVID-19 lockdowns are weighing on world trade.
►Ukrainian police say they have launched a war crimes investigation after a 64-year-old man was killed by a mine in the northern village of Krasne, in an area from which Russian forces recently retreated.
►The United Nations’ children’s agency says nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes in the six weeks since Russia’s invasion, and the organization has verified that 142 children have been killed and 229 injured, though the numbers are likely much higher .
Putin: Russia is surviving sanctions
The Russian economy has survived the “blitzkrieg” waged by the West, which will ultimately succumb to common sense and ease its sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. He pointed to a global fertilizer shortage that threatens to further limit worldwide food supplies, already constrained by the disruption of crucial grain shipments from Russia and Ukraine.
“The blitzkrieg, which our ill-wishers were counting on, has clearly failed. Our financial system and industries are operating smoothly,” Putin said at a joint press conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. “Of course there are problems … (but) it appears that the Russian economy and financial system have a rather solid foundation.”
Austrian Chancellor gets ‘no optimistic impression’ from Putin meeting
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer held “direct, open and tough” talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and said the outlook for ending the war remained bleak. The Austrian chancellor emphasized that the trip had not been a “friendly visit,” adding that he had brought up the issue of war crimes and stressed that “all those who are responsible will be held to account,” according to Austrian media.
Nehammer said he had “no optimistic impression” and urged civilians to flee the offensive Russia is expected to launch in eastern Ukraine. “This battle will be fought with vehemence,” he said.
Mariupol mayor: Death toll could reach 20,000; Russia conceals carnage
More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the besieged city of Mariupol since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the Western nations warned a convoy on the move for a suspected Russian assault in Ukraine’s east. The city is crucial to Russia’s effort to link Crimea with the Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have de facto established republics that even Russia only recognized days before the war broke out in February.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Russian forces have blocked weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys into the city in part to conceal the carnage. Boychenko also said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000.
Boychenko also gave new details of allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces had brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of victims of the siege.
Obama: Putin has ‘always been ruthless,’ but invasion is ‘reckless’
Former President Barack Obama weighed in on the Russian invasion of Ukraine in an interview with NBC News’ TODAY, answering questions about his handling of Russian relations while in office and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state of mind. Obama also said that the war in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 are a reminder “to not take our own democracy for granted,” adding that the Biden administration is “doing what it needs to be doing.”
“Putin has always been ruthless against his own people, as well as others,” Obama said. “What we have seen with the invasion of Ukraine is him being reckless in a way that you might not have anticipated eight, 10 years ago, but you know, the danger was always there.”
Obama’s full interview with TODAY will air Wednesday.
European countries make moves to ease dependence on Russian energy
Italy will begin importing more natural gas across a Mediterranean pipeline from Algeria soon, Europe’s latest attempt to distance itself from Russia as Moscow faces building accusations of war crimes. Italy’s biggest supplier of natural gas is Russia, representing 40% of global imports. Neighboring Germany gets one-third of its oil and gas and more than half its coal from Russia.
Europe’s dependence on Russian oil, natural gas and coal had left energy sanctions off the table amid fears the entire continent could plunge into recession, although reports of Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians have caused some countries to reconsider. Lithuania became the first European country to entirely cut itself off from Russian gas imports in early April.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi told reporters that the agreements to intensify bilateral energy cooperation and export more gas to Italy “are a significant response to the strategic goal” of quickly replacing Russian energy.
Last week, both the US and European Union sanctions escalated punishments Russia: The US Senate banning the Union on the nations ended in favor of the Russian import of oil relations with Russia, while the European Union agreed to the new Russia a ban on importing its coal.
Contributing: The Associated Press