By Roman Bharati
As we continue to monitor the events occurring in Ukraine, the latest revelation has been dismissed by the US and the majority of other western powers as a lie. Namely, the claimed threat of a biological weapons programme found in Ukraine – funded by the US.
Last week, the UN Security Council convened at Russia’s request to address Moscow’s assertions that the US is sponsoring “military biological activities” in Ukraine, i.e. surreptitiously creating deadly weapons in Ukrainian laboratories. There was a lot of debate at the occasion. Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s UN envoy, raised the alarming prospect of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, his American equivalent, cautioned that Russia’s allegation may be used as a “pretext” for conducting its own biological weapons strike on Ukraine.
To summarize, The Russian foreign ministry accused the US and Ukrainian administrations of pursuing a secret “military-biological operation” within the country in a tweet last Sunday. Moscow stated that its invading forces found evidence of an “emergency clean-up” to conceal the programme.
Moscow went on to say that it has discovered documents connected to the covert US operation in laboratories in Kharkiv and Poltava, Ukraine.
China promptly backed up the charges, speaking out in favor of them during a UN Security Council discussion on Friday. The notion gained traction on social media under the hashtag #usbiolabs, and was picked up by right-wing sites in the US, including Donald Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and Tucker Carlson’s Fox News prime-time show.
Both the US and Ukraine have emphatically denied producing biological weapons within their own countries. “I will repeat this once: ‘Ukraine does not have a biological weapons programme,” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during the conference on Friday. She went on to blame Moscow for the claim: “It is Russia that has long maintained a biological weapon program in violation of international law.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ukraine has not violated any international treaties, including the ban on biological weapons.
Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s high commissioner for disarmament, affirmed that the UN has no knowledge of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. Since 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention has forbidden the production and use of biological weapons, according to Nakamitsu. The conference was supported by then-President Richard Nixon, who also put an end to the United States’ development of offensive biological weapons in 1969.
Indeed, Ukraine does have biological laboratories that are funded by the United States. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting this week, US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland confirmed those facts after Republican Senator Marco Rubio openly questioned her as to whether or not Ukraine possessed biological weapons.
However, Nuland did not directly respond to the question. “Ukraine has biological research facilities,” she said, noting that Russian soldiers were attempting to seize control of the labs. “We are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”
Many critics seized on Nuland’s remarks as additional proof of a covert US-Ukraine scheme. It must be noted however that US support for the facilities dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union, when money was poured into Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to assist them in shifting scientific expertise away from weapons programmes and towards public health innovations.
The initiative was originally named the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programme, but it is now more frequently known as the biological engagement programme. It has assisted former Soviet republics and other countries in meeting their public health goals.
Dr. Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security went as far as to say that “this [biological engagement programme] is one of the best things we do.”
The majority of the work done by Ukraine labs today, according to Gronvall, is surveillance of diseases in animals and humans as an alert system for illnesses like African swine fever, which is widespread in the region. “We know pathogens don’t respect borders, so helping to put out public health fires before they become too big is an advantage to all of us,” she added.
Bio laboratories appear to keep deadly microorganisms as part of their work investigating illnesses. We know this because the WHO is pushing Ukraine to destroy any harmful agents in its laboratories in order to deter a terrible epidemic if one of the facilities is bombed by Russia.
“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the ministry of health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” the UN health agency said.”
It is now known that the WHO has spent several years in Ukraine promoting bio laboratories.
Aside from the risk of viruses stored in Ukrainian labs seeping out or getting into the hands of Russian soldiers, Western nations worry Russia may conduct its own biological weapons assault. According to the US State Department, Russia maintains an offensive biological weapons programme in contravention of previously ratified accords.
Earlier this week, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, accused Russia and Vladimir Putin of having a “long and well-documented track record” of using chemical weapons, citing the alleged poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as well as Russia’s support for the Syrian regime, which conducted 33 chemical attacks between 2013 and 2018.
Only time will tell the extent to which these vacillating claims and accusations will influence the trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.