Russian Use of CW Agents in Ukraine, in Detail

Biological warfare agents have effects highly unique to each agent. CW agents can be characterized by a comparatively small number of parameters. So we defer BW to another time. Discussion of CW agents is followed by conditions of use.

CW Agents. Prompt inspection of a suspected site of CW attack  results in complete documentation. Yet for one CW agent, even this level of documentation is vulnerable to the the thinnest veneer of deniability. The agent is chlorine.

Unlike subsequent war gases, chlorine is present in the natural environment. The human body contains about 1/2 ounce, 14 grams, matched with equal quantities of sodium/potassium — mostly table salt! Yet 15mg, 1/1000 of the above, dissolved in a cubic meter of air, repeatedly inhaled, kills. So a victim’s body does not contain significantly more chlorine than an unexposed person. Diagnosis is made from pulmonary edema, and videos of  clouds of green gas that tend to hug the ground. The Russians would point out that pulmonary edema has a multitude of causes, while the clouds were caused by Ukrainians.  Everybody has chlorine for industrial purposes.

To prove a battlefield death is due to chlorine, it would help to find a biomarker, a chemical tell-tale for chlorine. Until 2020, there was no known  biomarker. (PubMed) Determination of 3-chloro-l-tyrosine as a novel indicator of chlorine poisoning utilizing gas chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis proposes one. It may be possible to operate a portable mass spectrometer in a war zone, but preparation of the sample is involved. Russia doesn’t have to worry about this capability, because in the West, chlorine is regarded as primitive.

We focus unduly on VX, Novichok, and sarin, because deniability is still, after so many years, a nuisance rather than a crux. VX and Novichok are not likely to be used. These are liquids with low volatility, that tend to stick around. As they are incredibly persistent in urban nooks and crannies, they are area-denial weapons, akin to chemical minefields.

Quoting (EPA) Persistence of Chemical Warfare Agent VX on Building Material Surfaces, page 6,

…the significant difference between the residual amount of VX observed at the end (45 weeks) of these dissipation tests and the PRG indicates that the attenuation of VX by itself is not an
effective approach for remediating a contaminated site.

If Novichok, also a liquid, were used in quantity against an urban area, only extreme efforts could reclaim structures for habitation. While these agents decay quickly in the body, they leave persistent biomarkers. If such a site were open to CW inspection, the corpses would have to be incinerated along with the real estate.

Sarin, though far less toxic than VX and Novichok, is volatile, rapidly transforming to a heavy gas that invades lower levels, basements, and bunkers. It leaves specific biomarkers in the victim, so the Russians would have to be very confident that they could sequester the  bodies. Perhaps this is another reason they brought portable crematoriums.

If they are not confident, there is another possibility, blending less-lethal or nonlethal agents, chlorine or tear gas, with  sarin. I strongly suspected Assad’s forces of this; I might have had a little company, but not much. The idea is to bamboozle the inspectors. A definitive level of sarin metabolite is replaced by “trace quantity”, the clinical signs are inconclusive; not as many people died as expected; the monitor cannot reach a formal conclusion out of those allowed by training. This is all that is required of a CW agent for the thin Russian veneer of deniability.

Conditions of use. Now that we understand the agents, this is simple. To thwart time-critical examination by inspectors, the area subject to CW attack must have low risk of recapture. When the front line includes an unreduced enemy strong point, this is called investment. Mariupol is currently invested. If there is no relief, sarin, or a sarin blend may be regarded as low risk.

It has been suggested that Russian forces stuck to the roads rather than risk mud. When summer dries out the ground, so the opinion goes, Russian tank formations will storm Kiev in something resembling a blitzkrieg. I don’t know if they can do this, but the opinion has it they had to be trained to do at least one thing half well.

If the Russians hold this opinion about themselves, they may resort to  CW attacks ahead of their armored spearheads, confident that the areas of CW attack will not be retaken. It would be new military history; I am unaware of a prior CW – combined arms attack.

From my article Facebook,

We begin with reality of the group mind, not as  the helpful superintelligence of (Wikipedia) collective consciousness, but of the atavistic human, the crowd run amok, the groupthink of hatred, of awakening the Beast in Five Million Years to Earth.

The Beast has awakened in Russia.