Western officials have warned of their “serious concern” that Vladimir Putin could order chemical weapons to be used on Ukraine’s capital.
In an assessment, they say an “utterly horrific” attack on Kyiv could be unleashed as Russian forces attempt to overcome the logistical issues that have apparently plagued the convoy heading for the city.
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In a briefing to journalists, one official said: “I think we’ve got good reason to be concerned about possible use of non-conventional weapons, partly because of what we’ve seen has happened in other theatres.
“As I’ve mentioned before, for example, what we’ve seen in Syria, partly because we’ve seen a bit of setting the scene for that in the false flag claims that are coming out, and other indications as well.
“So it’s a serious concern for us.”
The officials also said there is hope that China will push for an end to the violence but that there is disappointment that Beijing has so far not been clearer on the “unwarranted invasion” being unacceptable.
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It comes after Ukraine accused Russia of bombing a children’s hospital in the besieged port of Mariupol during a supposed ceasefire to enable some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.
Russia had said it would hold fire to let civilians flee Mariupol and other besieged cities on Wednesday. But the city council said the hospital had been hit several times.
President Volodymr Zelenskiy called it an “atrocity”, as he said on Twitter: “Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital.
“People, children are under the wreckage.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.”