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SECDEF Austin warns of ‘significant response’ against Russia if it uses chemical weapons

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
March 21, 2022

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned on Sunday that Russia’s use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine would lead to a “significant reaction” from the United States and its global allies.

“If a chemical or biological weapon was used, you’d see a significant reaction from not only the United States, but also the global community,” Austin said during an appearance on “Face the Nation,” as reported by CBS News. “I don’t want to speculate about what exactly would change our calculation. I think engaging in hypotheticals is probably not helpful here either, but this is a very serious step and as you heard our president say, we won’t take that lightly.”

President Joe Biden’s administration recently alerted that Russia may use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine after a top U.S. diplomat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Ukraine has labs which the U.S. is working to keep out of Russian control. At the same time, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of operating chemical and biological weapons labs with the help of the United States.

Austin said Russia is known for “raising issues and creating a pretext so that if they did something in the battle space, they could blame it on somebody else, either Ukrainians, us, NATO.”

“This could possibly be what we’re seeing today,” he added.

The Defense Secretary also said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is working to re-establish momentum in the invasion through attacks on Ukrainian civilians.  

“They’re not being effective today in terms of their maneuver forces on the ground. They’re essentially stalled,” he said. “It’s had the effect of [Putin] moving his forces into a wood chipper.”

Austin praised the Ukrainian resistance for defending their country against Russian forces, commending their “significant resolve.”

“What we’ve seen in the past is that the Ukrainians have counterattacked, that they’ve used their initiative to move things around on the battlefield and they’ve presented some significant problems for the Russians,” he said.

While the Biden administration has already provided Ukraine and other Eastern European allies with more than $15 billion in humanitarian and military aid since 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continued to suggest the support isn’t enough, repeatedly urging the U.S. to establish a no-fly zone over his country.

The U.S. has so-far rejected Zelenskyy’s request, but Austin said the U.S. is working with allies to provide Ukraine with surface-to-air missile systems to “ensure they have the ability to protect their skies going forward.”