Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists trade accusations over acid tank explosion

Spain expelled some 25 Russian diplomats and embassy staff from Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said

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LONDON: Ukraine and Russian-backed separatist forces both reported on Tuesday that an industrial acid tank had been blown up in eastern Ukraine, creating a serious potential hazard for local people, and each pinned the blame on the other.

“In Rubizhne, Luhansk region, Russian troops hit a tank with nitric acid,” David Arakhamia, a member of Ukraine’s negotiating team at peace talks with Russia, said on Telegram.

Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai told residents in a message on Facebook: “Do not leave bomb shelters. If you are indoors — close windows and doors.”

Luhansk is part of the Donbas region where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014.

The armed forces of the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic said on Telegram it was “Ukrainian nationalist formations” who had blown up the acid tank before retreating from the town. They said it had sent up a dangerous cloud of poison gas.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the incident or to establish who was responsible.

Western governments have said they are concerned that Russia or its proxies could launch a chemical attack as part of the war in Ukraine and blame it on the other side. Moscow says it fears the use of weapons of mass destruction by Ukraine. Adding to this, Spain will expel some 25 Russian diplomats and embassy staff from Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said on Tuesday, joining other European Union countries in its response to alleged war crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine.

“We have decided to expel Russian diplomats and staff from the Russian embassy in Spain who represent a threat to the interests and security of our country,” he said after the weekly cabinet meeting, without ruling out further measures.

The minister added that the expulsions were also a response to “the terrible actions carried out in the past days in Ukraine especially in Bucha and the ones reported today from Mariupol.” referring to the discovery of mass graves and civilian killings in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

“The crimes cannot remain unpunished,” he said.

Italy, Sweden and Denmark had already announced similar expulsions early on Tuesday.

Albares said his government expected Russia to expel a similar number of Spanish diplomats in response.

However, he said Spain would not expel the Russian ambassador as Madrid wants to keep its own ambassador in Moscow and leave diplomatic channels open for talks with Russia to end the war.

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