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Ukraine war

Zelenskyy warns of Russian chemical attack in speech to Japan

Ukrainian president asks Japan for tougher sanctions in virtual address to Diet

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a speech broadcast online to Japanese lawmakers in which he tells them that Putin is planning to attack his country with chemical weapons such as sarin. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday warned Japanese lawmakers in a virtual speech that Russia was escalating its attacks on Ukraine, including possibly employing chemical or nuclear weapons, as he called for tougher sanctions.

"I have received reports that Russia is preparing chemical attacks by using chemical weapons such as sarin," he said in the speech to Japan's parliament. "How would the world react if nuclear weapons are used is also now discussed around the world."

Japanese are familiar with sarin because it was used by members of a cult in an attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 that killed 13 people and injured thousands.

Zelenskyy also pointed to the dangerous situation near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where forest fires have erupted but Russian troops, which have taken control of the site, are hampering any Ukrainian attempts to put them out.

"On Feb. 24, Russian military vehicles drove through the area and sent radioactive materials into the air. Russia turned it into a war zone."

Zelenskyy has made virtual addresses to the parliaments of other G-7 leading industrial nations including Italy, Germany, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. He also addressed the Israeli parliament on Sunday.

He has tailored his speeches to each country to unite politicians behind him and in supporting Ukraine. In his address to the U.S. Congress last week, he likened Russia's invasion to Japan's strikes on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda extremists.

Zelenskyy thanked Japan for being the "first Asian country to start seriously putting pressure on Russia," and urged Tokyo to continue imposing sanctions.

"To stop the tsunami of Ukrainian aggression, a trade ban with Russia must be introduced and companies must withdraw from Russia," he said. He also stressed the need to start rebuilding Ukraine so that people can move back to their hometowns.

Zelenskyy noted that existing international institutions, such as the UN Security Council, have not been able to stop Russia's attack and that "new preventive tools" are needed. "The Japanese leadership can play a major role in the development of such tools," he said.

"When a future anti-war coalition is formed, I hope that Japan will be together with Ukraine, as it is doing now."

Tensions between Japan and Russia have grown ahead of Zelenskyy's speech. Russia on Monday said it will withdraw from peace treaty negotiations with Japan in response to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. Japan has been hoping for a return of Russian-controlled islands called the Northern Territories by Tokyo and the Southern Kurils by Russia.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was eager to make progress on the long-standing dispute, agreed with President Vladimir Putin to expand economic cooperation with Russia in such areas as energy and health care. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Japan imposed weaker sanctions on Russia than the U.S. and Europe.

Under current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan has joined the U.S. and Europe in imposing tough sanctions on Russia, including blocking some Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments messaging system. He called Moscow's recent move to end the peace treaty talks "extremely unfair and absolutely unacceptable."

Kishida plans to attend a G-7 summit on Thursday in Brussels, during which leaders are expected to discuss additional sanctions on Russia. "It is important to show the unity of G-7 in the face of Russia's aggression in Ukraine," Kishida told reporters during a recent visit to India.

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