Boris Johnson has said he fears Vladimir Putin may deploy chemical weapons in Ukraine as that would be “straight out of Russia’s playbook”.
Speaking on Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews programme, the prime minister said the only way the war in Ukraine can end is if the Russian president realises he has made a “catastrophic mistake”.
Putin could use chemical weapons
Mr Johnson reiterated Western officials’ fears that Mr Putin could use chemical weapons in Ukraine after Moscow accused Kyiv of planning to deploy them in the battlefield.
“The stuff that you’re hearing about chemical weapons is straight out of their playbook,” he said.
“They start saying that there are chemical weapons that have been stored by their opponents or by the Americans.
“And so when they themselves deploy chemical weapons, as I fear they may, they have a sort of maskirovka – a fake story – ready to go.
“You’ve seen it in Syria. You saw it even in the UK. That’s what they’re already doing. It is a cynical, barbaric government.”
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Analysis: PM’s warning is likely counter attempt to Putin’s misinformation
Former chief of UK defence intelligence Air Marshall Philip Osborne told Sky News the PM may have been warning about a chemical weapons attack because he has “really high-grade intelligence”.
“What is more likely is this is part of information warfare so Boris Johnson is trying to pre-empt or respond to information Putin is going to use chemical weapons,” he said.
“So he could go really hard on the rhetoric, structured around Russian misinformation about chemical weapons facilities being in Ukraine.
“It’s more likely this is a narrative/counter-narrative escalation.
“If Boris Johnson has got really high-grade intelligence, you’d expect the US to be shouting about it as well, but we haven’t seen this so far.”
He added that if Russia did use chemical weapons it would be a “significant escalation and would be disproportionate to anything we’ve seen”.
However, he said: “We can never know what Putin’s thinking, you know what he’s saying and doing, but not what he’s thinking. It’s really dangerous to be really definite.”
Only Putin can accept he has made a ‘catastrophic mistake’
On whether there is a compromise to make Russia halt the invasion, the PM said it “depends on Putin and it’s up to him and to him alone”.
“I think he needs to understand that he’s made a disastrous miscalculation and that everybody can see that things aren’t progressing in the way that he hoped,” he added.
“His best bet, I think, is to withdraw, to cease the violence and to allow a peaceful negotiation to begin.”
He added that Mr Putin could either choose to accept he has made a “catastrophic mistake now…or a bit later on” but it is “up to the Kremlin”.
Mr Johnson warned the Russian president “needs to understand that his options are not good” but Mr Putin himself has “made it very difficult to find an offer”.
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