Vladimir Putin ‘plotting chemical weapons attack in Ukraine’

Wednesday’s claims about ammonia follow allegations from Russia earlier this week that it had found evidence of Ukraine “concealing traces of a military biological program implemented with funding from the United States”.

Ms Zakharova said Ukraine had been secretly developing “highly hazardous pathogens of plague, anthrax, rabbit-fever, cholera and other lethal diseases”.

The Ministry of Defense has also said there had been a notable “intensification of Russian accusations that Ukraine is developing nuclear or biological weapons” since the invasion began.

There are parallels with Moscow’s groundwork ahead of a chemical attack on Douma in Syria, when Russia used its state media to disseminate allegations that Syrian rebels were preparing chemical weapons with the help of the West.

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and long-term Russia-watcher, said such an attack in Ukraine would be disastrous.

He said: “You can’t live in the Kyiv and Kharkiv meters when you have chemical weapons being used, because chlorine and sarin are heavier than air.

“They will seep and flow like water into foundations and suffocate those people. Putin’s risk threshold is higher. His willingness to endure civilian and military casualties is almost out of our comprehension.

The UK has already sent Stinger anti-aircraft weapons and Nlaw anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. On Wednesday, the Government announced it would also be sending supersonic Starstreak surface-to-air missiles – the most advanced short-range anti-aircraft system in the world.

Mr Johnson said: “There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless.

“The UK is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against air strikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes.”

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On Wednesday, Mr Johnson said Mr Zelensky had “earned the admiration and love of the British people”.

The Prime Minister praised Mr Zelensky for his “deeply moving address to the House of Commons” the previous day and committed to a further tightening of sanctions on Russia, a Downing Street spokesman said.

Mr Zelensky earlier accused the US and Poland of “playing ping pong” with the lives of Ukrainians, after the apparent collapse of a proposal to send MiG fighter jets to his air force.

A Polish proposal to hand its MiG-29 fighter jets to a US military base in Germany, with the expectation they would be handed to Ukrainian pilots, was dismissed in Washington.

Allies fear that such a move would risk provoking a wider conflict. The Western official said that while the short-range weapons currently being sent to Ukraine could only ever be used for defense, fighter jets were a different proposition – as they had the capability to attack long-range targets.

After rejecting Warsaw’s offer to send its jets to Ukraine via the US, on Wednesday the Pentagon said it would oppose any Nato plan to deliver fighter plans. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesman, said it was too “high risk”.

Meanwhile, Maksym Dotsenko, the head of the Ukrainian Red Cross, said the Russian attack on the maternity and pediatric hospital in Mariupol could cause the “complete collapse” of children’s medicine in the city.

Dr Oleksandra Shcherbet, a neurologist currently based in Lutsk who is helping to coordinate the distribution of supplies across the country, told The Telegraph: “The Russians are bombing children’s centers and maternity hospitals? It’s hard to believe. It’s horrible.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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