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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that officials “have real concerns” that Russia could use chemical weapons during its invasion of Ukraine, even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called Russian threats a “bluff.”
During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, Blinken was asked how real the risk was for the conflict in Ukraine to turn into a nuclear war.
Blinken told host Wolf Blitzer that Russia’s “loose talk” regarding their nuclear weapons capabilities is “the height of irresponsibility” but said it was something officials were “very focused on.”
“There’s a lot of bad loose talk and bluster. At the same time, I have to tell you, we have real concerns that Russia could use a chemical weapon, another weapon of mass destruction. This is something we’re very focused on,” Blinken said.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen them use or acquiesce to its use before in Syria, with Syria using these weapons, using them itself, trying to assassinate its opponents, including in the United Kingdom. So, this is something we are very focused on,” he continued.
Blinken would not provide specifics of what consequences Russia could face if they did use chemical or nuclear weapons but said that the U.S. and its NATO allies have been clear “that there would be a very serious response.”
In a televised address last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor” in a nod to his country’s nuclear capabilities, according to The Associated Press.
Putin later put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on a higher alert, which a senior United States defense official called “escalatory” and “unnecessary.”
Zelensky brushed off Putin’s threats of using nuclear weapons, telling German newspaper Die Zeit in an interview this month that he thought they were a “bluff.”
But U.S. officials told lawmakers earlier this month that they have taken the matter seriously and have taken steps to declassify and publicize likely moves by Putin, which they feel have deterred Russian forces.