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We may have an answer to the question I asked earlier.

But the prudent course for now is skepticism, particularly given how this report originated.

Mariupol has been under siege for a month and faced repeated attacks by the Russians trying to break the Ukrainian resistance inside. Russia wants the city so that it can finally establish a “land bridge” from the Donbas in the east to Crimea in the south. Despite horrendous conditions that have reportedly killed 10,000 civilians, the defenders of Mariupol have held out.

That’s why it’s so hard to confirm the reports of a chemical attack this afternoon: Who’s going to confirm it, exactly? Because the city has been a no-go zone for reporters for weeks, we’re all at the mercy of rumors and propaganda in evaluating the situation there.

There’s another confounding factor. The Azov Battalion based in Mariupol is a far-right Ukrainian militia. They’re the closest thing to actual Nazis in the ocean of Russian propaganda about Ukraine being some sort of Fourth Reich. If the “Azov regiment” described above is a reference to the Azov Battalion, it’ll be easy for the Kremlin to dismiss this as “Nazi propaganda.” It’ll even give their perpetual claims that all Russian atrocities are actually Ukrainian false-flag operations a bit of extra credence. If any Ukrainian unit is radical enough to commit crimes against Ukraine’s own people to galvanize international opinion against Russia, one would think it’d be the Azovs.

Also, is there any smartphone service still left in Mariupol? If so, it should be simple enough to film the aftermath of the supposed attack and upload it. Where’s that video?

But there are also reasons to believe the report might be legit. For one thing, it was only a few hours ago that Russian separatists in the Donbas called for using chemical weapons in Mariupol to weaken the remaining resistance:

This is a fair point too. A new Russian commander with a history of using WMD might predictably resort to WMD to announce his arrival on the battlefield:

As for a strategic reason to use chemical weapons, there’s the obvious one of trying to terrorize the population into surrender. But there’s also this:

Russia has reached a point of such desperation in manpower that it’s reportedly planning to call retired troops back into the field. Taking Mariupol and the Donbas isn’t a simple matter for them of redeploying forces that had been stationed around Kiev to the east and south. Those units need to be reconstituted, and they may be in no condition to fight.

The clock is ticking on Putin’s army. If they’re going to grab Mariupol, establish their land bridge, and then demand a peace deal, they may fear that this is their last chance to do so before their forces break. The lowest-cost option available to knock over the remaining Mariupol resistance at this point might be gas.

We’ll see if the alleged attack can be corroborated. If it is, the United States will have a hard decision to make. One month ago today:

Does “severe price” mean U.S. military assets on the battlefield (or more likely in the airspace) of Ukraine? Or does it mean Ukraine gets a higher caliber of weapons than we’ve sent them so far plus a new round of sanctions on Russia, assuming we haven’t already sanctioned everything that moves there?

It’s hard for me to believe NATO will be involved on the ground in Ukraine for any reason short of a Russian attack on NATO assets. But there’s always some theoretical limit to the depravity beyond which a critical mass of westerners would say “enough.” If we end up with Russian einsatzgruppen rounding up Ukrainian “Nazis” en masse in occupied towns and marching them off to the forest, which isn’t all that far removed from what happened in Bucha, presumably that’s over the line. But if that’s over the line, wouldn’t gassing Ukrainians en masse be over the line too?

Anyway, all “news” from Mariupol is a rumor at best these days. But the White House is watching this one closely.

Source: This post first appeared on HotAir

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