The topic of biolabs and biological weapons allegedly being developed on the territory of Ukraine has never disappeared from Russian news. However, this week Russian media spread several reports concerning it. This time, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the US is building new laboratories in Ukraine to create bioweapons based on the human genome. We also debunked the fake that Warsaw may be preparing a provocation with bioweapons to blame Russia.
With the support of the USAID Health Reform Support project, VoxCheck analyzes and refutes public health narratives spread in the information space of Ukraine, Belarus, and russia on a weekly basis.
Disinformation: The US is building new laboratories in Ukraine for the development of bioweapons, in particular based on the human genome
More claims are circulating online about alleged US biolabs in Ukraine made by Russia. On April 12th, the State Duma presented a report by a parliamentary commission on the activity of US biolabs in Ukraine, which included all the fake claims about biolab activities that Russia has ever spread. For example, “biological weapons created by American experts based on the deciphering of the human genome fundamentally change the general geopolitical and military situation in the world, reminiscent of the beginning of the ‘atomic era’ in the 1940s-1950s of the last century“. At the same time, the Chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense Troops, Igor Kirillov, stated that the US is building new laboratories in Ukraine to create bioweapons.
What’s the reality?
Ukraine is participating in the Biological Threat Reduction Program (a subprogram within the framework of the overall Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program, established in 1991). In 2005, an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the U.S. Department of Defense on cooperation in preventing the spread of technologies, pathogens, and knowledge that could be used in the development of biological weapons. It is within the framework of this agreement that Ukrainian laboratories are receiving assistance. Since 2005, 46 Ukrainian laboratories, medical institutions, and diagnostic centers have been supported under the program. As of 2023, there is no information about the construction or modernization of new laboratories.
Source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency
The cooperation program is focused on improving healthcare and agricultural measures. However, the Kremlin falsely presents this peaceful cooperation as supposed military biological activity by the United States abroad, without any evidence. VoxCheck has previously refuted Russia’s report on the “evidence” of the US developing bioweapons in Ukraine, which consisted of excerpts from articles and a false interpretation of official documents.
A representative of the US Embassy in Moscow refuted Russia’s statements in response to local media inquiries, emphasizing that the US does not possess or develop biological weapons anywhere. This is in contrast to Russia, which, according to the US State Department, continues to support an offensive biological weapons program and violates its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention. The UK Ministry of Defense also warns of Russia’s potential use of chemical and biological weapons. Mykhailo Podoliak, the advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, stated that Russia is attempting to justify its aggressive actions by spreading lies about “American biolabs” in Ukraine.
The accusations of the United States in developing biological weapons based on the human genome are reminiscent of the last century, when similar absurdities were promoted by the USSR. For example, in 1985, the KGB spread disinformation that “the US, together with South Africa, had developed a bomb that would kill all “blacks” and leave whites alive, and one with Israel that would kill only Arabs“. Later, these already developed fakes began to be used by Russia. However, it is impossible to create such genetic weapons within the framework of modern science. As geneticist Alexander Koliada explained to the publication “Kunsht,” there is no concept of “nation” in biology, nor is there a gene for Ukrainian or Russian nationality. The virus does not distinguish between Ukrainians, Russians, or mixed genotypes. There is no technology that would allow the virus to be so manipulated. Furthermore, viruses mutate on their own and are relatively uncontrollable.
Disinformation: In Warsaw, provocations with biological weapons can be prepared — the Ministry of Defense of Russia
On April 7th, the Russian Ministry of Defense published a report claiming that Ukrainian scientists participating in a training course organized by the Ukrainian Scientific and Technical Center in Warsaw may be preparing provocations with biological weapons. The report suggests that experience in research with dual-use technologies is a prerequisite for participation.
What’s the reality?
On January 1, 2023, the Ukrainian Science and Technology Center (USTC) announced a training course called “Verification of Scientific Research, Knowledge Security, Responsible Science, and Individual Cybersecurity Training for Ukrainian Researchers.” The training is designed for Ukrainian scientists, technical experts, and engineers who have experience in dual-use research. Due to the war, some experts have found themselves in a difficult financial situation, which could be exploited by criminals. The training will last for three days from April 24 to 26, and participants can join the meeting online or offline in Warsaw.
The USTC website states that the course aims to improve skills in the field of research verification, individual cybersecurity, and protection of intellectual property, among others. There is no mention of developing biological weapons: the organizers stated that participants will focus on studying cyber hygiene, protecting important knowledge during transportation, and learning practical methods for enhancing the safety and protection of researchers in cyberspace.
Dual-use research — research conducted for legitimate purposes to discover new information, technology, and/or products that can be used for both beneficial purposes and to pose a threat to public health or national security. Scientists often create modified versions of dangerous viruses in laboratories to study how they behave in the bodies of people and animals and how to fight them. However, without proper control, they can be used to intentionally infect people.
For example, scientists studying asthma have developed aerosols to deliver drugs deeper into the lungs. While this research has benefited people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, it could also be used to increase the damage from biological weapons.
That is, any research is considered dual-use if the methods, materials, or results could be used to cause harm. In Ukraine, as well as in other countries, there are institutes and laboratories that study how various viruses spread and methods of counteracting them. Such laboratories exist, in particular, in Russia.
In addition, in the Soviet Union, scientists were engaged in the development and testing of biological weapons, so after its collapse, scientists with knowledge in this field remained on the territory of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Scientific and Technical Center, founded in 1993, is engaged in the development and support of the culture of non-proliferation of chemical, nuclear, radiological, and biological weapons. The center also helps former Soviet scientists and institutes in the field of armaments to integrate into the global scientific and business community so that they can sustain themselves without direct assistance from the Ukrainian Scientific and Technical Center.
This information piece was produced with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided on behalf of the people of the United States of America. This article’s content, which does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government, is the sole responsibility of Deloitte Consulting under contract #72012118C00001.
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