(CN) — Russia was accused of launching a possible chemical attack Monday night against the last Ukrainian forces still fighting in the devastated southeastern port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials say tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
The alleged chemical attack remained unverified as of Tuesday, but the accusation further escalates the war in Ukraine. There is danger the war will continue to spiral out of control and further draw in NATO.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his latest comments on the war and called the fight with Ukraine “inevitable” and vowed to continue the war.
“A clash with the anti-Russian forces growing in Ukraine was inevitable, it was a matter of time,” Putin said during a visit to the Vostochny Spaceport in Russia’s Far East.
Russia was infuriated by the 2014 overthrow of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during the so-called “Maidan Revolution,” a period of mass protests, violence and atrocities.
The Kremlin accuses Washington of backing what many experts describe as a coup d’etat against Yanukovych – a corrupt politician but one who was democratically elected – and installing a pro-Western, anti-Russian government. Following his overthrow, Russia annexed Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet was based, and backed an armed separatist uprising against Kyiv by militants in two eastern regions of Ukraine.
Since 2014, the U.S. has turned Ukraine into a close ally and expanded NATO operations there. In 2007, Putin warned NATO against making Ukraine a member of the military alliance, but Washington was not deterred and continued to bring the former Soviet republic into NATO’s sphere.
“Russia will develop its own competencies to replace those that it could previously buy with petrodollars,” he said.
He blamed Kyiv for not living up to a peace deal to end the eight-year war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, a region known as the Donbas. He added that peace talks with Kyiv are at a “dead end” and that Russians are uniting due to the difficulties their country faces.
“The goals of the operation to protect the Donbas will be achieved, they are noble,” Putin said. “The Russian armed forces act courageously, competently, efficiently and effectively, they use the most modern types of weapons.”
The alleged chemical attack was reported by the Azov Regiment, a far-right militia group that formed during the Maidan Revolution and was incorporated into the Ukrainian army. Azov said some of its soldiers experienced heartburn, itching and elevated blood pressure, but that those affected were in “relatively satisfactory condition.”
Ukrainian and Western officials said they were looking into the allegation.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said any use of chemical weapons would be “a callous escalation” of the war. The Pentagon called the potential use of chemical weapons “deeply concerning.”
Russia did not immediately refute the allegation, though pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine said the Azov Regiment was lying.
The Kremlin has pointed to the existence of the Azov Regiment and other far-right militias as reasons for its invasion. In launching the assault on Ukraine, Putin said Russia was going to “de-nazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine. The Kremlin accuses “Nazis” of taking control of Ukrainian institutions and persecuting ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
During World War II, sections of Ukraine backed Nazi Germany against the Soviet Red Army and many Ukrainian far-right nationalists today see themselves as continuing that struggle against an oppressive Russia.
But Putin’s contention about Kyiv being run by “Nazis” is far-fetched and many experts say it is inaccurate. For instance, Ukraine’s far-right political parties pick up only a small fraction of votes and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish. Nonetheless, far-right militias like the Azov Regiment allegedly do wield a lot of power, especially inside Ukraine’s military and intelligence services.