Jen Psaki
Jen PsakiReuters

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday warned of the potential for Russia to use chemical weapons in Ukraine after Moscow alleged the United States was housing biological weapons in Ukrainian territory, The Hill reports.

Psaki called the claims from Russia "false" and "preposterous," and warned they could serve as a pretext for the Russians to deploy chemical weapons in their assault on Ukraine.

"It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent," Psaki said in a statement quoted by The Hill.

"Also, Russia has a track record of accusing the West of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating. In December, Russia falsely accused the U.S. of deploying contractors with chemical weapons in Ukraine," she continued.

"This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine. Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them. It’s a clear pattern."

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed Russia discovered evidence of a program to develop anthrax and other biological weapons run by the United States in Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later called the claims "absurd" and "laughable."

The comments came hours after Russia bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, where over 400,000 residents are currently unable to leave.

An air strike by the Russian military over the city destroyed the children’s hospital, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that women and children were trapped in the remains of the building. The number of dead and injured is unknown.

A video of what Zelensky called a “direct strike of Russian troops” on the maternity and children’s hospital was shared by the Ukrainian leader on Twitter.