Theory about US-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine is baseless

WASHINGTON — Prominent social media users and conservative voices have reinforced a baseless theory promoted by Russian state media accusing the United States of funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine.

There is no evidence to support the claims that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White Housethe Pentagon and the State Department have all unequivocally denied.

There are biological laboratories in Ukraine and since 2005 the United States has supported a number of institutions to prevent the production of biological weapons. But Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and others have misleadingly cited comments from US officials as evidence that the labs are producing or researching biological weapons.

“Out of nowhere, the Biden official in charge of Ukraine confirmed the story,” Carlson said on his program on Thursday evening. “Victoria Nuland, the secretary of state, casually said during a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the Biden administration is indeed funding a series of biolabs in Ukraine.”

Representative Thomas Massie, Republican from Kentucky, characterized Ms. Nuland’s comments as a “serious admission.” Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, tweeted that her comments corroborated “conspiracy theory to fact.”

Mr. Carlson also pointed to an interview with Robert Pope, the director of the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which helps countries in the former Soviet Union secure or eliminate nuclear and chemical weapons.

“As Pope put it, scientists are scientists, they don’t want to destroy all bioweapons,” Mr. Carlson continued in his segment. “Instead, they’re using them to conduct new bioweapons research — that’s what he said.”

Mr. Carlson mischaracterized those comments from Ms. Nuland and Mr. Pope.

In a convention testimony this week, Ms. Nuland, the Secretary of State for Political Affairs, was asked by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio whether Ukraine has chemical or biological weapons.

“Ukraine has biological research facilities that we are actually very concerned now that Russian troops, Russian troops, may want to take control,” she replied. “So we’re working with the Ukrainians on how to prevent all that research material from falling into the hands of Russian troops as they approach.”

If a biological or chemical weapons attack were to take place in Ukraine, Mr Rubio asked, would there be any doubt that Russia was behind it?

“I have no doubt, Senator, and it is a classic Russian technique to blame the other man for what they themselves intend to do,” Mrs Nuland replied.

The foreign ministry said that during her testimony, Ms Nuland referred to Ukrainian diagnostic and biodefense laboratories, which are different from biological weapons facilities. Rather, these biological defense labs counter biological threats across the country, the department said.

Mr. Rubio made the same clarification Thursday at another congressional hearing, noting that “there is a difference between a bioweapons facility and one that does research.”

By referring to Mr. Pope on Thursday, Mr. Carlson distorted a February interview that Mr. Pope gave to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization and publication.

Pope had warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could damage labs in the country that conduct research and disease surveillance and are supported by the United States. He noted that some of the facilities may contain pathogens once used for Soviet-era bioweapons programs, but he stressed that Ukrainian labs do not currently have the capability to produce bioweapons.

“There is no place that still has infrastructure for researching or producing biological weapons,” said Mr. Pope. “Scientists being scientists, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these strain collections in some of these labs still contain pathogenic strains that go all the way back to the origins of that program.”

In a March interview with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Mr. Pope also echoed Ms. Nuland’s concerns about the labs falling into Russia’s hands. He spoke specifically about the Pentagon’s support for 14 veterinary labs that provide Ukraine with sampling and diagnostic capabilities to detect infectious diseases.

War Between Russia and Ukraine: Important Things to Know

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To the ground. Russian forces, battered by local resistance, have stepped up their bombardment over Ukraine, targeting locations far from the front lines. Satellite images of a convoy north of Kiev suggest Russia is repositioning its forces for another attack there.

Iran nuclear deal. A European Union official said talks about reviving the 2015 agreement had paused after the invasion. Russia, a signatory to the accord, has tried to use the final approval of the deal as leverage to ease sanctions imposed over the war.

“If Russian forces occupy a city with any of these facilities, we are concerned that Russia will fabricate ‘evidence’ of nefarious activities in an effort to lend credibility to their continued disinformation about these facilities,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council met on Friday to discuss Russia’s allegations of biological weapons in Ukraine. Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said the United Nations was “unaware of biological weapons programs”.

Both Ukraine and Russia have signed a treaty banning biological weapons. While there is no independent body that monitors countries’ compliance with the Convention, also known as the Biological Weapons Convention, Ms Nakamitsu noted that a country concerned can seek redress or clear suspicions about its peers in several ways, such as through annual reports and by filing a complaint about possible breaches with the Security Council for investigation. That reporting mechanism, she said, “was never activated.”

For years, Russia has claimed that former Soviet countries were producing biological weapons in US-funded labs. Experts and journalists have found no evidence for these claims.

Filippa Lentzos, a biological threat expert at King’s College London, wrote in 2018 that she and other international experts had been given full access to the Lugar Center for Public Health Research, a lab in the state of Georgia that receives funding from the United States. States .

“Our group did not observe anything out of the ordinary, or that we would not expect to see in a legitimate facility of this kind,” wrote Dr. Lentzos.

Similarly, crisis reporting agency Coda Story was shown highly sensitive areas of the lab, including a “pathogen museum,” and reported that Russian journalists had also visited and Russian scientists had previously worked there.

“If this were a secret weapons facility, would we be so open to everyone?” the director of the lab told the publication.

Edward Wong contributed to reporting.

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