VLADIMIR Putin using chemical weapons on innocent Ukrainian civilians could force the West to reconsider military intervention, a minister has suggested.
Armed Forces minister James Heappey said the bloodthirsty Russian tyrant should “reflect very urgently” on what the world’s response might be.
He hinted that the deployment of such barbaric tactics may cross a “red line” and leave allied countries feeling compelled to act more robustly.
Britain, France, and the US launched missile strikes against Syria back in 2018 when the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own people.
The surgical rocket attacks knocked out a scientific research facility and a storage depot with the aim of preventing any future atrocities.
Mr Heappey acknowledged direct confrontation with nuclear power Russia would be very different and Britain wants to “avoid that at all costs”.
He said entering such a conflict would mean that “cruise missile and an airstrikes will be launched against the UK”.
Mr Heappey was asked: “If chemical or biological weapons are used, does that change the calculation that NATO has made so far on not sending planes to Ukraine and not setting up a no fly zone? Is it a red line, does it change anything?”
He replied: “I don’t think it’s helpful to get into any firm commitment right now about where that red line sits.
“But I think President Putin needs to be very clear that when other countries have used chemical weapons it has caused an international response.
“I think he should reflect very urgently on what has happened to other countries where they have used them.”
Read our Russia – Ukraine live blog for the very latest updates
He added: “President Putin needs to be clear that the use of chemical weapons is just the most despicable thing that anybody can imagine.
“As horrid as the pictures we are seeing on our TV screens today of an artillery strike against a hospital are, they are but nothing by comparison to the suffering and devastation that chemical weapons cause.”
Ministers have repeatedly ruled out setting up a no-fly zone in Ukraine because it would require NATO jets to shoot down Russian warplanes.
Mr Heappey said the Kremlin won’t want a direct conflict because the alliance would “completely overmatch the Russian military both in terms of technology and mass”.
Today the UK ratcheted up sanctions on Russia including whacking Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich with a travel ban and asset freeze.
Mr Heappey also warned soldiers who go AWOL to fight in Ukraine are putting the safety of everyone back home at risk.
He said troops who have abandoned their post to head to the conflict are being “spectacularly unhelpful”.
And he said their actions threaten our security as they could give Putin an excuse to claim the UK has entered the war.
He also issued a direct plea to ordinary Brits including veterans not to take up arms on behalf of Kyiv.
Mr Heappey warned people who travel will be stuck in a bloody war for the long haul and won’t be able to “get some Instagram shots then come home”.
The former army major, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he understands why people have reacted to “sickening” TV images by signing up.
He said the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol by Russian forces overnight in which three people were killed was a “war crime”.
But he said there was no justification for serving personnel in particular to desert their duties.
Asked what fate awaits soldiers who have left, he replied: “They’ll be in an awful lot of trouble.
“It is illegal for a British service person to to go absent without leave in the first place.
“But to go absent without leave in order to fight in a foreign war is simply unacceptable and risks the UK being wrongly claimed by Russia to be a belligerent in this.
“Service people who might think that they are doing the right thing should reflect that it is 100% not the correct thing to be doing.”
He said that the Government believes “three or four” missing soldiers intend to go and fight in Ukraine.
But he added ministers don’t yet have concrete evidence that they’ve arrived in the country.
Mr Heappey said civilians including armed forces veterans should also stay at home and not go and fight.
He said: “No good comes from British service people or veterans going to Ukraine to be part of this.
“The Ukrainians have got huge amount of manpower in their arm, the Ukrainian nation has rallied to take up arms.
“The role that the West is playing is to provide them with the best weaponry that we can so that they can achieve their aims.
“This is not the time for people to be going there. Once you cross the border with the expectation to fight you’re in it for good.
“People who think they can go there, do a couple of weeks, take some selfies, get some Instagram shots then come home, that’s not the way the Ukrainians are viewing the people who go to fight for them.”
Brits have been given mixed messages over whether or not to go and join the battle.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss initially said she’d support those who did, but a day later Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told people not to go.
Head of the UK Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, has also urged Brits not to join the fight.
Kyiv has formed a foreign legion to help in the fight against Russia which has attracted 20,000 volunteers from around the world.
More than 60 Brits are thought to be amongst those who have crossed the border to to battle.
Mr Heappey said the “ferocity” of the Ukrainian resistance has stunned the invading Russians.
He added Kyiv’s forces are “slowing the Russians down and denying them almost all of their objectives”.
Moscow’s Air Force has been forced to largely stop flying during the day because it’s taking such heavy losses.
And now Britain is set to send the Ukrainians high powered Starstreak rocket systems that can down Russian jets at night.
The latest MoD intelligence update says: “There has been a notable decrease in overall Russian air activity over Ukraine in recent days, likely due to the unexpected effectiveness and endurance of Ukrainian Air Defence forces.”
It also says Russia’s massive 40-mile column north of Kiev “has made little progress in over a week and is suffering continued losses”.
Yesterday Putin was forced into the extraordinary admission that conscript troops are now involved in the fighting.
He had previously promised that young soldiers doing their military service wouldn’t be drawn into the conflict.
British officials now believe that “as casualties mount, President Putin will be forced to draw from across the Russian Armed Forces and other sources to replace his losses”.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine says that more than 12,000 Russia troops have been killed in two weeks of fighting so far.
It also reports having downed 49 planes and 81 helicopters and having destroyed 335 tanks.