Ukraine Accuses Russia of Using Chemical Agent

March 2024
By Mina Rozei

Ukraine has accused Russian ground forces in Ukraine of multiple instances of using riot control agents against Ukrainian infantry positions this year in a manner prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

An example of the K-51 gas grenade that Ukraine accuses Russian ground forces of using in their full-scale war in Ukraine in a manner prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention. (State Border Service of Ukraine)Russia used K-51 grenades filled with chloropicrin, a World War I-era chemical substance, 229 times since the beginning of January, according to a Feb. 9 statement from the Armed Forces of Ukraine published via the Ukrainian Army’s Telegram channel.

In a televised statement on Jan. 30, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Ukraine also has documented incidents from 2023 in which Russia used grenades and drones filled with chloropicrin and more recently with 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile gas, commonly known as tear gas, both of which are classified by the CWC as riot control agents.

These agents, which are used widely by domestic police forces around the globe, are banned by the CWC for use by militaries on the battlefield. Article 1 of the treaty specifically obligates states-parties “not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.”

The spokesperson for Ukraine’s Tavria military group, Col. Oleskandr Shtupun, said on Jan. 30 on Ukrainian national television that each case of alleged use of these agents is being investigated separately. “Appropriate analyses are made, and then the results are submitted to international institutions,” Shtupun said, according to The Kyiv Independent.

The Russian Embassy to the Netherlands denied the charges in a Jan. 26 statement on social media. “All allegations that Russia is using grenades with chloroacetophenone banned by the Geneva Convention are based on unconfirmed data. There are no chemical weapons in the stockpiles of the Russian army, as confirmed by international investigations,” according to the post.

But in November, Mallory Stewart, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, deterrence, and stability, said that “Russia’s problematic behavior has now expanded to Ukraine.”

Speaking to the CWC conference of states-parties, she noted that “reports shared by our Ukrainian colleagues and aired on Russia’s own state media suggest Russian armed forces are using [riot control agents] against Ukrainian forces.”

“We call on Russia…to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine and to comply with its CWC obligations, including refraining from using [these agents] as a method of warfare,” Stewart said.

At the same conference, Ukraine’s representative, Kateryna Bila, said her government is in contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “on the threat of chemical weapons use and assistance and protection support from the [secretariat] as well as from [CWC] states-parties.”

The OPCW Executive Council will meet March 5-8 in The Hague, but the alleged use of riot control agents in Ukraine is not on the provisional agenda posted by the OPCW secretariat. Russia lost its elected seat on the council in a contentious vote in November.