Why US warnings that Russia may be planning Ukraine chemical attack are not without precedent

Why President Biden is right to be cautious after President Putin's past suspected chemical attacks. Credit: AP

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, once wrote that, “the more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future”.

The 46th president may be heeding those words. As Joe Biden seeks to assess where Russia goes from here, it is the recent past - not distant history - which will inform.

The warnings from the White House that Russia may be planning a chemical or biological attack in Ukraine are not without precedent.

Ask the Syrian families, or those who lived to tell of the hell unleashed on them by the Assad regime and its Russian enablers. They can tell of the horror and harm of unconventional weapons.

Listen to the latest analysis on the Ukraine crisis in ITV News' podcast:

They can also tell of the harm done by conventional weapons after similar warnings. Often ahead of major offensives, Russia would accuse opposition groups of engaging in chemical warfare. Shortly after, communities would be attacked from the ground and the air.

Little wonder the White House raised the warning flag in the hours after Russia declared a “biological warfare programme” was underway in Ukraine.

There are others who can inform President Biden of Moscow’s penchant for chemical battle too. The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny would if he wasn’t imprisoned. Or maybe the Skripals poisoned in Salisbury would if they weren’t in hiding.

Sadly, the most unwitting victim of that attack, Dawn Sturgess, can never tell of her misfortune to be killed by the discarded poison.

Yet as President Biden can look to recent history, so too can President Putin. The very same events can teach him that he can escape without punishment.

He commands a different battlefield now but he may be reckoning the consequences won’t be so different.