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What is chloropicrin, the chemical agent that Washington accuses Moscow of using in Ukraine?

A chemical agent used by the Russians to poison Ukrainian soldiers? In a press release released on Wednesday, the US State Department accused Moscow of having used chloropicrin, an active substance in plant protection products, in the context of the war in Ukraine.

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What is chloropicrin, the chemical agent that Washington accuses Moscow of using in Ukraine?

A chemical agent used by the Russians to poison Ukrainian soldiers? In a press release released on Wednesday, the US State Department accused Moscow of having used chloropicrin, an active substance in plant protection products, in the context of the war in Ukraine. This use, if proven, would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Because chloropicrin is a very toxic substance. Particularly used as a combat gas during the First World War, it causes a suffocating effect when inhaled. According to the official US National Library of Medicine website, this non-combustible substance takes the form of a slightly oily, colorless to yellow liquid with a strong irritating odor. Denser than water, it has toxic vapors that irritate the eyes, nose and throat. The use of this pesticide in conflicts is now prohibited by the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

In France, this product has long been used by game wardens to exterminate harmful species, such as foxes or badgers. Until 1991, when a ministerial decree prohibited its use. The product was the subject of brief media coverage in the context of a murder case in 2004: that of Katia Lherbier and Géraldine Giraud, two lovers found without any trace of being beaten or strangled. The investigation ultimately concluded that both women were poisoned with chloropicrin. The main suspect, Jean-Pierre Treiber, who committed suicide in 2010, used this product as part of his work as a gamekeeper. The toxicologist allegedly told the prosecutor in charge of the case, regarding the toxicity of the product: “You see, Mr. Prosecutor, we uncork a very small bottle in your office and in a quarter of an hour, everyone is dead ".

This is not the first time that the use of toxic or chemical agents has been suspected in the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers have repeatedly reported effects caused by mysterious products, such as a “caustic and flammable gas” or grenades filled with an “unknown chemical substance”. In a press release last December, the Ukrainian general staff counted 81 chemical attacks by Russia.

In August 2023, on Telegram, General Oleksandr Tarnavsky, commander of the Tavria military sector, assured that, the day before, Russian soldiers had “carried out two barrages (a massive firing technique) using rocket launchers multiple with ammunition containing a chemical substance”. According to his message, it was chloropicrin. The France 24 correspondent assured that these were “two salvos of shells containing chloropicrin” launched by the Russians, information which could not be independently verified.

The Russian government has also accused Ukraine of using this substance. “Facts have been repeatedly recorded on the use of munitions dropped from drones containing identified toxic irritants, among others, as chloropicrin, chloroacetophenone and their mixtures, on the positions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the Zaporizhia region,” the government declared in a press release in February 2024.

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