Russia to go to UN with its claims of US-backed biological weapon plot | Russia

Russia is preparing to put before the UN unfounded claims of a US-orchestrated biological weapon plot in Ukraine, as the Kremlin announced 16,000 foreign fighters from the Middle East would be sent to the eastern European country.

The UN security council is meeting on Friday at Russia’s request to discuss Moscow’s claim that the US-backed laboratories in Ukraine were working on biological weapons to target Russians. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, along with western military intelligence, fears Russia is preparing the ground for its own chemical weapon attack.

“Allegedly, we are preparing a chemical attack,” he said in a video address on Thursday. “This makes me really worried, because we’ve been repeatedly convinced: if you want to know Russia’s plans, look at what Russia accuses others of.”

Russian forces, meanwhile, continued their advance into Ukraine, bombing cities in the west of the country, including Lviv, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk.

The remains of buildings and vehicles in Kharkiv as Russian attacks continue.
The remains of buildings and vehicles in Kharkiv as Russian attacks continue. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Elsewhere, satellite photos appeared to show a massive convoy outside Kyiv had largely dispersed and redeployed. The US space technology company Maxar said its pictures showed armored units had fanned out through towns and forests in the area, with artillery moved into potential firing positions.

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin announced 16,000 foreign “volunteers” from the Middle East were ready to fight with Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine to “help” the people living in the Donbas region. In a meeting with Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin also said western-made weapons including Javelin and Stinger missiles that were captured by the Russian army would be handed to Donbas forces.

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As heavy shelling continued across eastern Ukraine’s towns and cities, Ukrainian authorities reported Russia had now killed more civilians than soldiers. Russian forces were also reported to have hit a psychiatric hospital near Izyum, a town in the Kharkiv region. The regional governor, Oleh Synegubov, called it a “war crime against civilians [and] genocide against the Ukrainian nation”. He said 330 people had been in the hospital at the time, including wheelchair users and those unable to move. The exact number of casualties is still to be established.

In the besieged port city of Mariupol conditions remain desperate, with people trapped inside indoor shelters with no heat, electricity and little or no food. More than 1,300 people have died in the 10-day siege, said Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk, said. “They [Russia] want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to make them starve. It’s a war crime,” she added.

The Associated Press spoke to an exhausted-looking resident, as he pulled a cart loaded with bags down an empty street flanked by damaged buildings in the port city. “I don’t have a home anymore. That’s why I’m moving,” Aleksander Ivanov said. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It was hit, by a mortar.”

More than 400,000 people remain trapped in Mariupol, which is surrounded by Russian forces, and basic supplies are running out. About 200,000 are believed to want to leave amid continuous Russian bombardment but have not been able to do so despite the daily declaration of humanitarian corridors.

A member of Ukrainian armed force takes a photograph of a damaged church after shelling in Mariupol on Thursday.
A member of Ukrainian armed force takes a photograph of a damaged church after shelling in Mariupol on Thursday. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Meanwhile, a UN spokesperson said there were credible reports of Russians using cluster munitions in populated areas. Cluster munitions, which scatter small bombs over a large area, are banned by more than 100 countries, including the UK, but not Russia, Ukraine or the US.

More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine and a further two million are internally displaced within the country, the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said on Friday.

The grim toll for Ukrainian civilians comes amid growing fears that Russia could stage a chemical attack, as senior Russian officials recycled old conspiracy theories about alleged western-made biological weapons.

The head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical and biological protection troops, Igor Kirillov, said on Thursday that US-backed labs in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa were working on dangerous pathogens, custom-designed to target Russians and other Slavs. According to Russian-state media, Kirillov alleged the US planned to exploit Ukraine’s “unique geographical position” by sending migratory birds carrying deadly diseases into Russia.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, made a similar claim on Thursday, alleging that US-backed labs in Ukraine were working to “develop ethnically targeted biological weapons”. The director of the CIA, William Burns, told the US Senate intelligence committee that Russia may be laying the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack of its own, which it would then blame on the US or Ukraine in a “false flag operation”.

“This is something, as all of you know very well, is very much a part of Russia’s playbook,” he said. “They’ve used these weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously.”

The EU announced it would more than double its military aid to Ukraine to €1bn (£840m). In a watershed moment three days into the invasion, the bloc said it would deliver offensive weapons to a country for the first time, with a promise of €500m in military aid.

Meeting in Versailles, the EU’s 27 heads of state and government, however, rebuffed Ukraine’s request for a fast-track plan to join the bloc.

“We will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family,” the leaders said in a post-summit declaration that called on EU officials in Brussels to give an opinion on membership applications from Ukraine, but also Georgia and Moldova, both of whom quickly followed Kyiv with their own efforts to join.

EU leaders also said they were “ready to move quickly” with further sanctions on Russia. The US is expected to step up the pressure, with an announcement later on Friday that it will revoke Russia’s “most favored nation status” at the World Trade Organization. Losing this status means virtually all Russian products will be subject to high tariffs, a trade status assigned only to North Korea and Belarus. Canada made the move last week and the EU, which is Russia’s biggest trading partner, also supports the plan.

The UK announced on Friday it would impose sanctions against 386 members of the Russian parliament who voted to recognize two Russian-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine as independent countries. The politicians, who are already under EU sanctions, will now be banned from traveling to the UK and accessing any assets stored in the country.

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