Fact Check: No, There Are No U.S.-Funded Bioweapons Labs in Ukraine
False claims are going viral on social media.
Several viral social Facebook posts are falsely claiming that the United States has biological weapon laboratories in Ukraine. Examples of widely shared Facebook posts can be seen here, here, and here.
But the rumor hasn’t just been spreading on Facebook.
Infowars, a website that promotes conspiracy theories and fake news owned by known conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, published a story on February 24 headlined: “Russian Strikes Targeting US-Run Bio-Labs in Ukraine?” The article highlighted a tweet thread by a now-suspended account, which tweeted about supposed evidence proving that the United States does in fact have “biolabs” in Ukraine. The article highlights a similar tweet, which makes a similar baseless allegation.
The Infowars story also claimed: “Evidently there are several US bio-labs in Ukraine under the auspices of the US State Department’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, an initiative where the US partners with other countries ‘to counter the threat of outbreaks (deliberate, accidental, or natural) of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases.’”
The Russian media has also been spreading the rumor. Business Insider reported that Sputnik, which is a Russian state-owned outlet, recently posted on Telegram: “some of the documents on US biolabs in Ukraine.”
Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican, also amplified this false rumor on Twitter. “There’s so much propaganda on both sides that I didn’t take the concern over Ukrainian biological labs seriously … until now,” he said. “This is a serious admission, under oath, from a person who would know.” Massie was referring to Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about concerns that Russia could take over biological research facilities.
Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwaldVictoria Nuland: Ukraine Has "Biological Research Facilities," Worried Russia May Seize Them https://t.co/SfBOKdaMYL
Tucker Carlson promoted the theory on his show Wednesdaynight too. In a Fox News article (adapted from Carlson’s March 9 show), Carlson writes: “Someone needs to explain why there are dangerous biological weapons in Ukraine.” (Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, debunked the false biolab rumors on Wednesday night’s Hannity, sharing a statement from the Pentagon.)
The United States does not own or control any “biolabs” in Ukraine and any funding from the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program (also known as the Nunn-Lugar program) serves to invest in the the security of the facilities and help ensure that skilled scientists work on useful projects and not poached to help WMD programs in rogue nations.
The rumor originated from a misinterpretation of a 2005 agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine: “Concerning Cooperation in the Area of Prevention of Proliferation of Technology, Pathogens and Expertise that could be Used in the Development of Biological Weapons.” For years Russia has alleged that American involvement in securing labs in former Soviet states is part of a massive conspiracy to develop biological weapons, in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.
In an April 2020 statement, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine clarified the U.S.-Ukrainian partnership in an effort “to set the record straight regarding disinformation” on what is described as a “strong U.S.-Ukrainian partnership to reduce biological threats.” The statement explained that the U.S. Ukraine partnership is part of the Biological Threat Reduction Program, which “works with the Ukrainian Government to consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern in Ukrainian government facilities, while allowing for peaceful research and vaccine development.”
The Russian campaign is not limited to Ukraine There were similar accusations made about the U.S.-funded Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, that spread during the Trump administration as well. According to reporting from the Associated Press, Russia’s Defense Ministry accused the U.S. of running a biological weapon lab in Georgia. The allegation more specifically, according to the AP, was that the lab in Georgia “was part of a network of U.S. labs near the borders of Russia and China.”
Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon shot down rumors and explained the purpose of the Lugar Center at the time, per the AP: “The mission of the Lugar Center is to contribute to protection of citizens from biological threats, promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection, epidemiological surveillance, and research for the benefit of Georgia, the Caucasus region and the global community.”
During a press briefing yesterday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby addressed these most recent rumors.
“The Russian accusations are absurd. They're laughable. And you know, in the words of my Irish Catholic grandfather, a bunch of malarkey. There's nothing to it. It's classic Russian propaganda. And, and I wouldn't, if I were you, I wouldn't give it a drop of ink worth paying attention to.”
He added: “We are not, not developing biological or chemical weapons inside Ukraine. It's not happening,” Kirby said.
In a March 9 press statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price also addressed allegations of biolab in Ukraine, saying that: “The Kremlin is intentionally spreading outright lies that the United States and Ukraine are conducting chemical and biological weapons activities in Ukraine.”
“Russia is inventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.” Price added. “The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine, it is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere.”
In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said, “We do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing biological weapons, which have been basically the propaganda that Russia is putting out.” She clarified that Ukraine’s existing research facilities are for “biodefense and their public health response.”
For more on the bioweapons propaganda, read Andrew Fink in The Dispatch.
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