The Russian Ministry of Defense accused Ukraine on Saturday of using a toxic substance to poison Russian military personnel in occupied parts of southeastern Ukraine.
Russian officials said that a number of soldiers in Zaporizhzhia were taken to a military hospital in late July, showing signs of poisoning. Tests showed that the soldiers had ingested botulinum toxin type B, officials said.
The toxin, which also has medical uses, is a neurotoxin that can cause botulism, an illness that impairs the body’s nervous system, causes muscle paralysis, and makes breathing difficult. Botulism can also cause death.
“On the fact of chemical terrorism sanctioned by the Zelenskyy regime, Russia is preparing supporting evidence with the results of all the analyses,” a statement from the Russian government claimed.
Russian officials did not reveal how many people had ingested the substance, nor did they provide any information about the “supporting evidence.”
Long History Of Combat Misinformation
The botulinum toxin was first been weaponized during the Second World War. Documents from the British National Archives reveal how Allied intelligence services reported threats of German soldiers using the toxin as a kind of biological weapon, especially during Operation Overlord – a military operation by Allied forces to liberate Europe from Nazi rule.
Those threats, however, turned out to be nonexistent. No evidence was ever found that the Germans used the toxin. Instead, the threats were rooted in disinformation, causing panic among troops and putting Allied forces on the back foot.
Is Russia Telling the Truth?
There are two questions to consider here. The first is whether Russia is telling the truth that its soldiers tested positive for the toxin. It is possible that the Kremlin is telling the truth in this sense, and that the soldiers were poisoned.
The other question, however, is whether Russian troops were poisoned by the Ukrainians.
Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser, addressed the accusations in a post on Telegram and noted that the soldiers could well have ingested the substance by accident.
“The department does not clarify whether the poisoning could have been caused by expired canned meat, in which botulinum toxin is often found. Overdue rations have been massively complained about by the occupying forces since the first days of the invasion of Ukraine,” the Ukrainian official said.
It’s impossible to truly know at this stage whether the accusations against Ukraine are true – or whether soldiers were even treated for poisoning. However, Gerashchenko’s claims about a shortage of Russian rations are accurate.
In March, reports revealed that Russian troops were given food seven years out of date. Throughout the invasion, reports out of Ukraine have suggested that such ration shortages have persisted.
Russia could be resorting to misinformation tactics involving this toxin that date back almost a hundred years.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.