Dangerous laboratories on the territory of Ukraine are developing programs for biological weapons with the financial support of the United States of America (USA). Recently, and especially since the beginning of Russia’s military attack in Ukraine, this claim has become a major argument for the ongoing invasion.
“Evidence” for the existence of US-funded laboratories circulates periodically, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady Zyuganov have warned that the labs pose a deadly threat to civilians. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova directly cited the allegation to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Pentagon-funded laboratories are said to produce deadly viruses, bacteria and toxins that have the potential to be used as biological weapons. These allegations are supported by documents published by Russian authorities, which are supposed to prove the existence of biological weapons facilities. It is emphasized that because of the war, the United States worries that the laboratories will fall under Russian control, so at their request, Ukrainian forces are to destroy the “evidence” of dangerous experiments and developments.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the American bio laboratories in Ukraine plot has become a main point of Kremlin’s propaganda.
Factcheck.bg checked the allegations made by the Russian politicians. Here are the facts.
Do such labs really exist?
The topic of US-funded biological laboratories in Ukraine received a new push last month in the wake of Russia’s ongoing invasion. The main argument “exposing” the existence of such labs is a statement by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Newland on March 8 this year. At a Senate hearing, a senator asked her if Ukraine had biological or chemical weapons, to which Newland replied that there were indeed biological research facilities in the country and that the United States were concerned about the possibility of them falling under Russian military control. In the publications that spread allegations about American biolabs in Ukraine, Newland’s words were taken out of context and presented as a “confession” from the United States.
In reality, Newland does not claim that Ukraine is developing biological weapons, nor that the facilities are owned by the United States. A subsequent clarification by the US State Department shows that Newland was not targeting biological weapons development sites, but diagnostic and biosecurity laboratories in Ukraine working to prevent biological threats.
Such facilities exist and are partly funded by the Pentagon’s Biological Threat Reduction Program under a 2005 US-Ukraine agreement. The two countries agree to work together to prevent the spread of technologies and pathogens that could be used for the development of biological weapons. The agreement states that to this end, the US Department of Defense commits to providing support to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health.
The fact-checking platform Snopes refutes the allegations about the laboratories in Ukraine on February 24. The inspection shows that the purpose of the laboratories in question is to prevent the risks of the spread of infectious diseases and counter the threat of “bioterrorism” – not to develop biological weapons. These efforts are part of the Joint Threat Reduction Program, launched in the early 1990s as a mechanism to neutralize programs for weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet republics.
Moreover, the laboratories are managed by the Ukrainian government in accordance with the country’s legislation. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that they were “installed” by the US military or supported by US authorities.
The “evidence” does not prove development of biological weapons
Allegations about the development of biological weapons in such facilities have been refuted in a Twitter thread by geneticist Dr. Olga Pettersson. Together with a team of scientists from Belarus, France, Russia and Sweden, she reviews documents published by RIA Novosti (on the picture) with a source cited as the Russian Ministry of Defense. They allegedly reveal Ukraine’s attempt to cover up evidence of a research program for biological weapons by destroying the available samples of pathogens that cause plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases. These allegations were spread by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as a motive for the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In a speech on March 8, she said:
“The received documentation (referring to the documents published by RIA Novosti) is being thoroughly analyzed by specialists from the troops for radiation, chemical and biological protection. However, we can already conclude that Ukrainian biolaboratories in immediate vicinity of Russian territory have been used for the development of biological weapons. The urgent destruction of particularly dangerous pathogens on 24 February was necessary to prevent the detection of violations of Article I of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention by Ukraine and the United States. “
While analyzing the documents in question, Dr. Pettersson and other experts found that the information in them comes down to the regulation of common laboratory practices to ensure biological protection in the work environment:
“The “expired” document is a standard bureaucratic procedure in any good microbiological laboratory, especially if it is certified according to the international standard. The texts of the documents show that they belong to the Kharkiv and Poltava-based Regional Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the Ministry of Health in Ukraine – i.e. sanitary and epidemiological institutions. The availability of such protocols in such laboratories is an international norm”, Dr. Pettersson wrote.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry describes the allegations on the part of Russia as “disinformation” and “provocation”. The Ministry of Health in Ukraine also emphasizes that there are no American laboratories for biological weapons in the country.
International institutions also join in refuting these claims. During a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on March 11, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu said:
“We are familiar with media publications related to allegations of biological weapons development programs. The UN has no information about the existence of such programs. The lack of such is largely due to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. “
How is the non-proliferation of biological weapons controlled?
The UN Biological Weapons Convention entered into force on March 26, 1975. It prohibits the development and proliferation of biological and toxic weapons. To date, the Convention has been ratified by 183 countries, including the United States, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Three decades later, in 2004, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540, according to which the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons poses a threat to international peace and security. This document commits all UN member states to the obligation to introduce legislation to ensure the non-proliferation of such weapons, and in no way to support their development, production, possession and transportation. States periodically submit reports on the implementation of the resolution at a national level. In this way, it is possible to trace publicly what legal measures have been introduced in each country regarding the non-proliferation of biological and other weapons. The most recent report submitted by Ukraine is from May 29, 2020.
Among the member states of 1540 Committee, which monitors the implementation of Resolution 1540 in question, is the Russian Federation. There are no public documents showing that Russia has ever tried to show its concerns about the existence of biological weapons programs on Ukrainian territory to the competent UN body. There have been no reports of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine from Russia or another member state of the Committee. There is no evidence that the topic has been discussed at this institutional level.
Despite the opinions of the international institutions responsible for the non-proliferation of biological weapons, and despite repeated refutations of this information by both Ukrainian and American authorities, allegations of dangerous laboratories in Ukraine continue to spread in Bulgaria and all around the world.
Currently, such publications gather thousands of reactions, comments and shares on the Internet, as they aim to justify the motives behind Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Among the most widely circulated materials is a text by Dilyana Gaytandzhieva who is identified by a number of anti-disinformation platforms as an author with “pronounced pro-Russian leanings.” Her texts were published on the Russian media News Front, which in a report by the US State Department was described as a “disinformation and propaganda media, self-proclaimed as an “alternative source of information”. Gaytandzhieva is the author of several “investigations” about “biological experiments” conducted with Ukrainian, Georgian and Bulgarian soldiers in the last few years. Read more about the Bulgarian context of the story here.
The narrative about US-funded biological weapons labs is far from new
The story of the “dangerous” biolabs in Ukraine dates back several years. According to the fact-checking platform SeeCheck, the first such allegations in mainstream media were found in a Sputnik article from 2015. It claims that the US military is funding the construction of biolabs in the former Soviet Union, which are likely to be used for developing biological weapons. These allegations refer only to an unnamed source of the Russian state agency RIA Novosti and are not supported by any evidence.
Another fact checking platform – EU vs. Disinfo, traces the chronology of the spread of pro-Russian disinformation related to biolaboratories and biological weapons development in Ukraine. According to the platform, this narrative dates back to 2014 when the first allegations about the construction of a US military system and biological facilities in the territories near the Russian Federation were published.
Over the years, these claims have adopted different interpretations. In 2017, the claim was that a smallpox epidemic in Ukraine has originated in US biological weapons laboratories; in 2018 it was supplying Donbass with biological weapons arriving from Kyiv. All these claims from the past lead us to the narrative that has spread over the last year – the claim about the intention of the US to surround the borders of the Russian Federation with biolaboratories, while concealing the evidence of dangerous experiments with pathogens which are being conducted in these facilities.
On March 22, US President Joe Biden officially issued a warning that Russia’s accusations against Ukraine clearly showed Putin’s intention to use biological and chemical weapons during the invasion. The same concern is expressed by Leonid Polyakov, a military expert and former Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine:
“By accusing Ukraine and the West of planning a chemical weapon attack, Russia itself can plan its own in Ukraine.”
This is how the Russian Federation builds and promotes the narrative about Pentagon-funded biolaboratories in Ukraine and then uses these accusations as its main motive to justify the ongoing invasion in Ukraine. However, in reality, the “evidence” in support of these claims is untenable and there is no reason to believe that Ukraine is developing dangerous biological weapons.
Read more on the disinformation about the war in Ukraine here, here, here, here and here.