President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed accusations that Ukraine is selling forbidden chemical weapons to Azerbaijan, which is fighting a war against the unrecognized Armenia-backed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

On Nov. 1, Armenian film director Sarik Andreasyan wrote in an Instagram post that the Ukrainian president had sold white phosphorus munitions to Azerbaijan. Two days later, on Nov. 3, Zelensky forcefully denied the claim, which appears to lack any factual backing.

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A friend of Zelensky from the movie industry, Andreasyan said that Ukraine had sold the banned weapons just to “tighten friendly bonds” with Azerbaijan and that now Zelensky has “blood on his hands.”

The Ukrainian president, in turn, called this claim “Russian propaganda.”

In a 529-word Facebook post, Zelensky asked Andreasyan to stop spreading fake news and said that Ukraine is “totally against wars and provocations on military issues,” in part because it has been struggling with its own war against Russia in the Donbas for six years.

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“Ukraine certainly does not support supplying any weapons to anyone. Unlike another notorious country, which supplies weapons to everyone,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. “Because wars for this country are their bread and butter.”

Nevertheless, Zelensky said Ukrainians have grown used to fighting Russia’s disinformation.

“We have immunity against it. So does Europe,” Zelensky said. “But you (Armenians) have to gain it.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky and Armenia-born film director Sarik Andreasyan pose for a picture at a movie premiere in March 2011. Zelensky and Andreasyan worked together on several comedy movies in the 2010s. On Nov. 1. 2020, Andreasyan accused Zelensky of selling white phosphorus munitions to Azerbaijan as the country fights in a war against Armenia for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Sarik Andreasyan/Instagram)

This isn’t the first time Ukraine has been accused of something connected to white phosphorus munitions.

In 2014, Russia accused the country of using the banned weapons in the Donbas. Although the allegation was later debunked by international nonprofit Human Rights Watch, Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov resurrected the claim on his 460,000-subscriber YouTube channel on Nov. 1. He said Azerbaijan has been using the same tactics in Nagorno-Karabakh as Ukraine has in the Donbas.

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He also said that Azerbaijani military aircraft transport Ukrainian white phosphorus munitions through Georgia, but did not provide any evidence to support his claim.

Solovyov’s comments came after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of using the banned munitions to set fire to Nagorno-Karabakh’s forests, where many civilians have taken refuge as the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalates, Armenian human rights activists said.

Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying that it doesn’t own white phosphorus munitions.

When white phosphorus munitions explode, the chemical inside reacts with the air and creates thick white smoke that can melt through flesh and cause deadly chemical burns. Use of the weapons is prohibited in civilian areas under the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, signed in 1981 and ratified by Ukraine in 1982. The convention, however, doesn’t forbid the use of this weapon against enemy military personnel.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh forces of using white phosphorus munition in previous clashes over the disputed territory of Karabakh back in 2016. Azerbaijan opened a criminal case against Armenia for using the banned weapons, while Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said that the usage of white phosphorus munitions was a staged operation by Azerbaijan. The case wasn’t resolved because of a lack of evidence.

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Between 1988 and 1994, the ethnically Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia fought a war with Azerbaijan over the territory. As a result of the conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh gained de facto independence. Nonetheless, the international community continues to recognize Karabakh as part of the territory of Azerbaijan.

Since the war ended, Armenian and Karabakh forces have regularly clashed with Armenian forces over the region.

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