Timeline of Chemical and Biological Weapons Developments During Russia’s 2022 Invasion of Ukraine

Timeline of Chemical and Biological Weapons News Developments During Russia's 2022 Invasion of Ukraine

Last Reviewed: August 2022
Contact: Leanne Quinn, Program Assistant for the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (CWC Coalition)

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there have been a number of accusations and concerns regarding chemical and biological weapons. The following is a chronological summary of key events and quotes related to chemical and biological weapons developments during the conflict. The timeline will be updated as necessary. 

2021

December 21: Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, alleged that American military contractors are secretly smuggling “tanks filled with unidentified chemical components” into Ukraine “for the purpose of carrying out acts of provocation.” 

2022

February 17: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went before the U.N. Security Council to warn that Russia could stage a “false flag” incident as a pretext for an invasion, including a chemical weapons attack.

February 27: Ukraine submitted Note Verbal No. 61219/30-196/50-3 to the OPCW, raising the concern that Russian armed forces might be preparing a “false flag” incident using chemicals, such as the explosion of industrial tanks filled with chemicals (Ukraine: 27 February 2022 – 61219/30-196/50-3). 

March 8: During the 99th Executive Council session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Ukrainian delegation condemned Russian misinformation and re-affirmed Ukraine’s compliance with and support for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ukrainian Amb. Maksym Kononenko made it clear that, should a chemical incident occur in Ukraine, Ukraine will invoke Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for the delivery of “Assistance and Protection Against Chemical Weapons” by other States Parties to the CWC.  

Forty-nine nations submitted a joint statement to the OPCW condemning Russia’s disinformation campaign, particularly Russian Defense Minister Shoigu’s December 21 statements (see Dec. 21 in timeline). 

March 9: Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Russia “has documents showing evidence that the US had supported a bioweapons program in Ukraine,” and that “Ukrainian nationalists” were preparing a chemical weapons “provocation” (The Guardian). The State Department and White House categorically denied the claims. 

March 9: White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned that Russia could “possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.” 

March 10: Russia submitted a “non-paper” to the U.N. Security Council “on several scenarios of false-flag chemical provocations by Ukrainians” and alleged that the U.S. and private military companies are assisting Ukraine in this effort. 

March 10: Russia submitted a National Document to the OPCW entitled “About the possible chemical provocations in Ukraine” repeating its claim that American “special services” have provided Ukraine chemicals for “various types of provocations” (Russian Federation: 10 March 2022 – NV_5). The document outlined several possible ways a chemical attack could take place. 

March 10: Appearing before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to the U.S., CIA Director William Burns stated: “Whether it’s the potential for the use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against the Ukrainians, this is something that all of you know is very much a part of Russia’s playbook. They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously.”

March 11: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. The United States Delegate, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, responded: “There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States – not near Russia’s border or anywhere.” U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, dismissed the claims, saying “the United Nations is not aware of a biological weapons program” in Ukraine.

March 11: Biden warned that “Russia would pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.” 

March 16: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, over the phone. Mr. Sullivan warned “about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.” 

March 18: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a second U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu once again stated that the U.N. “is not aware of any such biological weapons programs,” and further stated that “the United Nations currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information.” 

March 18: Ukraine submitted a request to the OPCW for “bilateral assistance from States Parties in order to protect against chemical weapons,” invoking Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The letter specifically requested: assistance and detection equipment and alarm systems; protective equipment; decontamination equipment and decontaminants; medical antidotes and treatments; and advice on any of these protective measures. Ukraine also stated concern that the “Russian Federation is going to launch a massive chemical attack on the territory of Ukraine, in the capital of Ukraine city of Kyiv and Kyiv region as well as in temporarily occupied Donetsk using tanks with ammonia and central nervous system acting chemicals.”

March 21: An ammonia leak occurred at a Sumykhimprom chemical facility in Sumy, Ukraine. The factory produces fertilizers. The Associated Press first reported on the 21st that the cause of the leak was unknown. Sumy regional governor, Dmytro Zhvytsky said that the leak was caused by Russian shelling. Russia has accused Ukraine of staging a “chemical false flag.” 

March 21: Speaking at a Business Roundtable, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that Putin’s “back is against the wall. And he’s – now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up, including he’s asserting that, we, in America, have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true. I guarantee you.” He followed this statement with: “They’re also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he is considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past.” 

March 21: In an effort to “demonstrate its commitment to cooperation and transparency,” the United States held a virtual “U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Transparency Event” for OPCW regional officials. Led by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins, the event “highlighted the progress the U.S. has made in destroying the last of the chemical weapons stockpile” and re-affirmed that the U.S. will finish destroying the final 3% of its stockpile by September 2023. 

March 22: Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. defense official commented that the U.S. is closely monitoring intelligence for indications of a Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine. He further stated: “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now” (Reuters).

March 24: In a joint statement, NATO countries promised to “continue to provide assistance in such areas as cybersecurity and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature” during a meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government. The statement also warned that “Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapons would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences.” 

March 24: While at the NATO summit in Brussels, U.S. President Joe Biden said that if Russia uses chemical weapons, “We would respond.” He added, “The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.” 

March 25: During a press gaggle, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan mentioned that the United States has established a “Tiger Team” of national security experts to “look at a range of contingencies” should Russia use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. When asked to clarify earlier remarks made by President Joe Biden about how the U.S. would potentially respond to the use of chemical weapons, Sullivan stated: “The United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances.”

April 1: White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the United States “is providing the government of Ukraine with lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russian use of a chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine.”

April 4: A reporter asked U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the delivery status of the equipment described during the April 1 press briefing (see: April 1). Psaki replied that U.S. government was trying to deliver the equipment in an “expedited manner” and that she would do a status check to see if the “equipment has been delivered, or is in process.” 

April 4: U.S. announced it has allocated $250,000 of its voluntary OPCW contribution to the OPCW Trust Fund for Implementation of Article X. The money is earmarked for “the provision of assistance and protection to Ukraine in the event of the use or threat of use of chemical weapons.” 

April 4-11: The second session of the Preparatory Committee for the Ninth Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention convened in Geneva to prepare for the upcoming Conference, which is scheduled to take place 28 November – 16 December 2022. Russia distributed a note verbale to BWC states regarding its allegations of US-funded facilities in Ukraine. While the document is not yet publicly available, the allegations mentioned in the document were reportedly similar to the allegations expressed by Russia during the March UN meetings (see: March 11, March 18).

April 7: The G7 foreign ministers and the high representative of the European Union issued a joint statement “On Russia’s War of Aggression Against Ukraine.” The statement included the following: “We warn against any threat or use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. We recall Russia’s obligations under international treaties of which it is a party, and which protect us all. Any use by Russia of such a weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences. We condemn Russia’s unsubstantiated claims and false allegations against Ukraine, a respected member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that is in compliance with its legal obligations under those instruments.”

April 8: The humanitarian organization DirectRelief confirmed that it had delivered 220,000 vials of atropine, a drug which can mitigate the effects of sarin and other chemical agents, to Ukraine. 

April 11: A message was posted on Telegram by the Azov Regiment, an “ultra-nationalist part of the Ukrainian National Guard,” alleging that Russian forces had used “a poisonous substance of unknown origin.” (Source: CNBC) There has been no official statement from any government body confirming that a chemical attack took place. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Twitter that the UK is urgently working to verify details of the incident. Several other countries also announced investigations into the incident. 

April 19: Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, announced that Japan was sending “anti-chemical-warfare equipment” to Ukraine, including gas masks, hazmat suits, and drones. 

April 19: The U.S. State Department published its annual report titled “Compliance with the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and On Their Destruction.” The report certified four nations – Burma (Myanmar), Iran, Russia, and Syria – to be in non-compliance with the CWC. The document alleged that “Russia retains an undeclared chemical weapons program and has used chemical weapons twice in recent years,” referring to an assassination attempt in the UK in March 2018, and an assassination attempt in Russia in August 2020. No mention of Ukraine was made in the document. 

April 20: White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked for an update on U.S. assessments of the alleged chemical incident in Mariupol (see April 11). Psaki replied that “there’s no new assessment.” She added that because the U.S. doesn’t have a team on the ground, the situation is “difficult to assess,” but that the U.S. will continue to work on investigating the incident.

April 23: According to Russian news agency Tass, Russian military officials are warning that the U.S. could conduct a false-flag “provocation” in order to accuse Moscow of using a weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon). 

April 26: During a press conference at the Rossiya Segodnya information agency, Russian Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Alexander Shulgin stated: “When Ukraine joined the chemical convention, it did not declare the presence of chemical weapons on its territory, but I think that, one way or another, the Ukrainians will play this card. I already spoke about encroachments regarding chemical provocations against our country.”  

April 29: In a statement marking the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We will also continue our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable for its noncompliance with the CWC, repeated use of chemical weapons, and ongoing efforts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its CW use.  Further, we have made very clear that the Russian government would face profound consequences were it to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.”

May 13: Russia called a third U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its allegations that the United States is carrying out dangerous biological projects in Ukraine-based laboratories. UN Disarmament Director and Deputy High Representative Thomas Markham briefed the UN Security Council and stated, “I wish to note that Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu informed the Council in her respective briefings on 11 and 18 March 2022, that the United Nations was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. This remains the case.” Markham advised any nation that still has compliance concerns to use procedures available under the Biological Weapons Convention to settle those concerns. 

May 16: Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, announced that Russia is planning to “move forward with the launching of the official investigation by the UN Security Council” into allegations about biological laboratory activities in Ukraine. 

May 18: Russia submitted a note to the OPCW accusing Ukrainian Security Services of carrying out “the explosive destruction of a pre-planted high-explosive round that was amplified with an overlay of up to one tonne of ammonium nitrate” on May 16 in Mazanovka (see Russian Federation: 18 May 2022 – NV_19 of OPCW document). The note went on to say that the explosion caused the formation of a toxic cloud that moved towards the town of Kramatorsk, and alleged that the goal of this incident was to “accuse the Russian army of using chemical weapons.” 

May 30: Russia submitted another note to the OPCW alleging that, according to information gathered from Ukrainian prisoners of war, Ukrainian nationalists are planning “another provocation involving toxic substances” (see Russian Federation: 30 May 2022 – NV_23 of OPCW document). 

May 30: Ukraine submitted a letter to the OPCW alleging that on May 30, Russian troops shelled an ammonia pipeline “Togliatti – Odesa” in the Bakhmut district, Donetsk region. The letter also claimed that, as a result of the alleged shelling, there was an ammonia leak which caused a toxic cloud that moved over several nearby villages. There were no casualties reported. (See Ukraine: 30 May 2022 – NV_61219/35-196/50-36735 of OPCW document). 

May 31: Russia refuted Ukrainian claims that Russian shelling struck an ammonia pipeline at the Odessa Port Plant in a letter to the OPCW (see Russian Federation: 31 May 2022 – NV_25 of OPCW document). 

May 31: In a note to the OPCW, Ukraine alleged that “on the 31 of May at 06:45 pm the Russian military targeted the large-scale chemical industry complex ‘Azot’ in order to create chemical pollution” (see Ukraine: 31 May 2022 – NV_51219/35-196/50-37431 of OPCW document). The letter also alleged that a railway tank containing nitric acid was damaged, causing the release of a cloud of toxic chemicals. No casualties were reported. 

June 1: The British Embassy in the Netherlands submitted a note to the OPCW condemning Russia’s allegations about chemical weapons provocations being prepared in Ukraine (see United Kingdom: 1 June 2022 – NV_63/2022 of OPCW document). 

June 1: Responding to the Ukrainian allegations regarding the chemical industry complex “Azot” (see May 31), Russia submitted a letter to the OPCW claiming that, “as early as on 6 May 2022, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation warned about the provocation at the ‘Azot’ plant in the city of Severodonetsk, in the People’s Republic of Lugansk, being prepared by Ukrainian nationalists planting bombs on containers holding hazardous chemicals” (see Russian Federation: 1 June 2022 – NV_26 of OPCW document). 

June 6: Russia submitted a note to the OPCW alleging that, “the Kiev authorities, having recognised that it is not possible to continue to resist and hold the industrial zone in the city of Severodonetsk, in the People’s Republic of Lugansk, have instructed a composite task group (the surviving contingent of 2 the 79th detached air assault brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the 117th and 118th detached battalions, and the 111th detached territorial defence brigade) to plant explosives on containers of the Severodonetsk enterprise “Azot” holding nitrate and nitric acid, the total amount of which exceeds 100 tonnes” (see Russian Federation: 6 June 2022 – NV_27 in OPCW document). 

June 9: Russia submitted another note to the OPCW accusing Ukraine of preparing a chemical false flag incident (see Russian Federation: 9 June 2022 – NV-29 of OPCW document). Russia went on to allege that, should a provocation take place, the OPCW will use the provocation to accuse Russia of using chemical weapons. 

June 10: The OPCW responded to Russia’s accusations (see June 9) by stating the Technical Secretariat for the OPCW “works impartially for the 193 States Parties to the Convention” and that the Secretariat is “composed of international civil servants who originate from more than 80 countries from all regions of the world, who perform their duties in the most independent way” (see Technical Secretariat: 10 June 2022 – NV/ODG-290/22 of OPCW document). 

June 12: In an interview with TASS, Russian Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova indicated that Russia plans to invoke Article V of the Biological Weapons Convention. This move would trigger a meeting of the BWC States Parties for consultation about Russia’s allegations against the United States and Ukraine. “In the near future, we intend to activate mechanisms under Article V and VI of the Convention, which provide for consultations between the States Parties to the BTWC in resolving any issues regarding the purpose of the Convention or in connection with the implementation of its provisions, as well as cooperation in conducting any investigations into possible violations of obligations under the BTWC,” she said.

June 29: Russia formally triggered the Article V mechanism of the Biological Weapons Convention. The treaty’s member states will now have to convene for a special summer session to hear Russia’s bio-lab allegations against the United States and Ukraine. 

August 3: The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs announced that a consultative meeting to discuss Russia’s allegations against the United States and Ukraine will be held on August 26, continuing on September 5, 6, 7, and 9.