United Nations – President Biden warned Friday that Russia will pay a “severe price” if it uses chemical weapons, as both sides made accusations of plans for false-flag operations amid Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
Russia had hastily called a Friday morning U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss in open debate what it called “the military biological activities of the US on the territory of Ukraine” — leading the Biden administration to immediately denounce it as a “false flag effort.”
“This is exactly the kind of false flag effort we have warned Russia might initiate to justify a biological or chemical weapons attack,” Olivia Dalton, spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, told CBS News.
The Friday meeting was announced by Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky in a tweet linking to the Russian Ministry of Defense, claiming analysis of documents about U.S. “military biological activities” in Ukraine, with a half-dozen documents attached with graphs and charts.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Security Council members on Friday that Russia asked for the council meeting “for the sole purpose of lying and spreading disinformation.”
“I will say this once: Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program, and there are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States. Not near Russia’s borders, not anywhere,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Her comments came as Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed that Ukrainian groups under control of “representatives of American special services have prepared several potential scenarios of the use of toxic chemicals in order to carry out various types of provocations,” with the objective of accusing Russia of using chemical weapons against civilians.
The purported “scenarios” could include “a diversion” at a Ukrainian industrial chemical site “involving the destruction of large-volume containers holding industrial chemicals,” reads a statement on the ministry’s website Friday. Another scenario involves destroying containers with toxic chemicals in “highly populated areas,” it said.
Washington had warned earlier this week that Russia could escalate the violence in its war in Ukraine with the use of biological or chemical weapons, or by claiming Ukrainian forces used them as a pretext.
“Russia has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons and has long maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law,” Dalton told CBS News. “Russia also has a track record of falsely accusing the West of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating.”
At the U.N. meeting on Friday, Security Council members overwhelmingly debunked Russia’s allegations.
U.K. Ambassador to the U.N. Barbara Woodward called the Russian allegations “utter nonsense” and said “Russia has today brought into the Security Council a series of wild, completely baseless and irresponsible conspiracy theories.”
Others more generally cautioned against the use of banned weapons.
Under Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “has received credible reports of Russian forces using cluster munitions, including in populated areas.”
“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said.
The U.N.’s High Representative for Disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, spoke about the “worrying issue of safety and security of nuclear power plants in Ukraine,” and she noted that safe operations procedures “are reportedly not being implemented” at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya – the two Ukrainian plants that the Russian government has occupied.
Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha added to the chorus of nations that are worried that the “allegations about weapons of mass destruction could serve as yet another pretext for Russia” in its invasion of Ukraine.
Eyes were on China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun after Thomas-Greenfield said that China “has been spreading disinformation in support of Russia’s outrageous claims.”
China’s envoy focused on the need for a “political settlement” but also made a point about the importance of the prohibition of the development and use of all weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, ultimately making its position clear: “The concerns raised by Russia should be properly addressed.”
After the meeting, speaking to reporters, Thomas-Greenfield said: “We believe the world is bearing witness to a war of Russian aggression, and no matter how much Russia tries, it can’t change that. That’s what today showed, and it continues to show that Russia is the aggressor here. No one else.”
Pamela Falk is the CBS News correspondent covering the United Nations, and an international lawyer.