TALLINN, Estonia — NATO should get directly involved in the Russia-Ukraine war if Moscow deploys weapons of mass destruction against its neighbor, Estonia’s chief of defense has told CNBC.
Members of NATO have so far supported Ukraine by sending lethal weapons and other military equipment so Kyiv can better defend itself against Russia’s unprovoked onslaught. However, the 30-member alliance has so far refused to put troops on the ground due to fears it would escalate the conflict against nuclear power Russia, possibly sparking a third world war.
NATO’s position could change though if fears over the potential use of chemical weapons were later realized.
When asked Wednesday if the use of these weapons of mass destruction (a term broadly used to describe nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons) should push NATO to intervene in the conflict, Lt. Gen. Martin Herem, chief of defense of the Estonian forces, said: “If Russia uses weapons of mass destruction, I think yes.”
Russia has accused Ukraine of operating chemical and biological weapons laboratories backed by the U.S, which has been roundly rebuffed by Ukrainian and Western officials. Moreover, the West believes that the accusations could actually be Moscow inventing and building a false narrative and pretext for using its own chemical weapons against Ukraine.
Kusti Salm, permanent secretary to the Estonian Ministry of Defense, told CNBC Wednesday that Russia is “clearly” preparing the groundwork to potentially use chemical weapons.
“They are clearly doing this with their rhetoric. They are creating context that this is about to happen,” he said, adding that “it would be naive from us to think that there is no sort of end goal there.”
“Even the narrative of this is part of the escalatory ladder. So they are increasing the temperature. And through that, they are already spreading fear without really using the weapons themselves.”
‘False flag operation’
Fears that Russia could be about to use chemical weapons were also shared on Tuesday by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg who said the alliance was “concerned that Moscow could stage a false flag operation, possibly including chemical weapons.”
Speaking at a press conference, Stoltenberg added that the false accusations from Russia “makes us a bit concerned about the possibility that they are actually planning to [use chemical weapons].”
“The president of the United States and other allies also made it very clear that if they use chemical weapons, there will be a high price to pay. But I will not speculate about any military response from the NATO side except for saying very clearly that NATO’s main responsibility is to make sure that we defend and protect all allies,” he also said.