What are the chemical weapons that Russia is feared to have used in Mariupol?

The Ukrainian authorities today released a video in which several combatants from the city of Mariupol describe the symptoms of what may be the effects of chemical weapons, weapons allegedly used by the Russian army in the siege of this city. But what are chemical weapons? Why are they prohibited? When were they first used?

What are chemical weapons

Chemical weapons are those that alter the physiological functioning of living beings and can cause temporary injuries, permanent damage or death. As indicated by the Association for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the definition of a chemical weapon also includes ammunition, devices and other equipment specifically designed to turn chemical substances considered toxic into a weapon. An example of this type of weapon is known as mustard gas, developed by the German chemist Wilhelm Steinkopf and used in the First World War.

When were chemical weapons first used?

The beginnings of the use of this type of weapon are closely linked to the evolution of the German chemical industry during the 20th century. Chemical weapons were the first considered as “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) that were used in combat. This was during the First World War, where liquefied gases were used in the trenches to attack soldiers and projectiles with liquid charges were launched, including chlorine and phosgene canisters. The German Army began to use them provisionally during this conflict due to the lack of regular explosives.

Australian infantry with Small Box Respirators at Ypres, Belgium, in September 1917

The vanguard

Since then, their use has been extended to later conflicts such as the war between Iraq and Iran or the current war in Syria, where both Putin and the Syrian regime deny having used them.

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A UN investigator analyzes samples of a projectile in one of the areas where the alleged attack with chemical weapons in Syria was recorded

Symptoms of a chemical weapons attack

Depending on the chemical used, the symptoms caused by these weapons vary. They can range from watery eyes or vomiting, to more severe ones such as intense burns -both external and internal-, loss of mobility (due to blisters caused by the burns), suffocation, hallucinations, seizures, lack of sphincter control , respiratory arrest and, in the most severe cases, death.

What is the difference between chemical weapon and biological weapon

Unlike chemical weapons, which use chemical substances such as those mentioned, biological weapons are those that are based on the use of pathogens or other organisms –microorganisms, viruses, bacteria, etc.– to harm people causing diseases or death. death.

Why and since when are chemical and biological weapons prohibited?

In 1997, the international treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force, a treaty administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPAQ) that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and is dedicated to carrying out military and industrial inspections. to control the use of these weapons in member countries. Almost all the states of the world are adhered to this treaty, with the exception of Israel -which has not ratified the treaty- or Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan that have not signed or ratified it. As the OPCW indicates, its main mission is “to eradicate forever the scourge of chemical weapons and to verify the destruction, within the established deadlines, of the declared stockpiles of chemical weapons.”

The agreement for the prohibition of this type of weapon is based on its indiscriminate nature: chemical or biological weapons can injure or kill anyone, regardless of whether they participate in the conflict or not.