Russia breached chemical weapons ban in Ukraine, U.S. says as it sanctions Chinese companies over war

The United States on Wednesday accused Russia of violating the international chemical weapons ban by deploying the choking agent chloropicrin against Ukrainian troops and using riot control agents “as a method of warfare” in Ukraine.

“The use of such chemicals is not an isolated incident and is probably driven by Russian forces’ desire to dislodge Ukrainian forces from fortified positions and achieve tactical gains on the battlefield,” the State Department said in a statement.

The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Reuters has not been able to independently verify the use of banned chemical substances.

Chloropicrin is listed as a banned choking agent by the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was created to implement and monitor compliance with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). German forces fired the gas against Allied troops during World War I in one of the first uses of a chemical weapon.

Moscow’s use of the gas “comes from the same playbook as its operations to poison” the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 and Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018 with the Novichok nerve agent, the statement said.

Russia denied involvement in both cases.

The department also determined that Russia has breached the CWC’s prohibition on the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare, the statement said.

Separately, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on nearly 200 targets and the State Department designated more than 80 in one of the most wide-ranging actions against Chinese companies so far in Washington’s sanctions aimed at Russia.

The sanctions on 20 companies based in China and Hong Kong, followed repeated warnings from Washington about China’s support for Russia’s military, including during recent trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the country.

China’s support for Russia is one of the many issues threatening to sour the recent improvement in relations between the world’s biggest economies.

“Treasury has consistently warned that companies will face significant consequences for providing material support for Russia’s war, and the U.S. is imposing them today on almost 300 targets,” Yellen said in a statement.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, said the government oversees the export of dual-use articles in accordance with laws and regulations, adding that normal trade and economic interactions between China and Russia are in like with World Trade Organization rules and market principles.

“The Chinese side firmly opposes the U.S.’s illegal unilateral sanctions,” he said.

The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on thousands of targets since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine. The war has seen tens of thousands killed and cities destroyed.

Washington has since sought to crack down on evasion of the Western measures, including by issuing sanctions on firms in China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Treasury’s action on Wednesday sanctioned nearly 60 targets located in Azerbaijan, Belgium, China, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Slovakia it accused of enabling Russia to “acquire desperately-needed technology and equipment from abroad.”

The move included measures against a China-based company Treasury said exported items for the production of drones — such as propellers, engines and sensors — to a company in Russia. Other China and Hong Kong-based technology suppliers were also targeted.

The State Department also imposed sanctions on four China-based companies it accused of supporting Russia’s defense industrial base, including by shipping critical items to entities under U.S. sanctions in Russia, as well as companies in Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia that it accused of shipping high priority items to Russia.

“The concern about entities in the PRC supplying Russia’s war is in focus at the highest levels of the Department and the administration. The reason is very simple: the PRC is the leading supplier of critical components for Russia’s defense industrial base, and Russia is using them to prosecute its war on Ukraine,” a senior State Department official said.

“If the PRC were to end its support for exporting these items, Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort.”