WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 - A new round of violence in Ukraine could lead to a chlorine gas disaster in the country, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s team warned Tuesday, Washington Examiner reported.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert accused “Russian-led forces” of targeting water treatment facilities, with several near-misses of chlorine gas tanks at the plants. The rebuke reiterates the U.S. government’s belief that Russia is responsible for the crisis in eastern Ukraine, which has been driven by conflict over a separatist movement since 2014.
“We call on the Russian-led forces to implement a genuine cease-fire, and, especially, to cease shelling around the filtration plant and to withdraw heavy weapons to the agreed-upon lines,” Nauert told reporters Tuesday.
Chlorine gas has been used to attack civilians in Syria, where the Russian-backed President Bashar Assad has been fighting to maintain power in the face of moderate and jihadist rebels for years. Nauert observed that artillery shells have fallen as close as 50 meters from the chlorine gas storage tanks at two water plants.
“A hit on the tanks would cause a major catastrophe, gassing people at the plant — possibly even those in nearby towns, as well as disrupting the supply of clean drinking water in the area,” she said.
Russia denies responsibility for the crisis, and generally portrays it as an internal Ukrainian dispute between the central government of Kiev and ethnic Russians who live in eastern regions of the country. The conflict broke out after the fall of a pro-Russian president, which led to the Russian annexation of Crimea and additional fighting in eastern Ukraine.
"Had we not done what we did, we would have betrayed our civilization which our forefathers developed over centuries and who then spread it over vast territories," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in June.
It’s not the first time water plants have take fire.
Separatist officials accused the Ukrainian government of targeting a water purification plant in rebel-held territory in February. "It is of utmost importance that this is considered a place that should not fall under attack,” Michael Saad of the International Committee of the Red Cross told Sputnik News, a Russian-government run media outlet.
Nauert’s warning coincides with a NATO ministerial in which western officials are discussing how to modernize the alliance in light of Russia’s recent aggression.
“One of the main reasons why NATO is adapting both with increased readiness, preparedness of our forces, but also by forward deployment of our troops in the eastern part of the alliance and the adaptation of the NATO command structure, is triggered by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday.
We continue to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements and we continue to raise Ukraine in all our political dialogue with Russia.” (we/ez)