A Pentagon program meant to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction across 46 Ukrainian laboratories has helped fuel a propaganda war with the Kremlin accusing the US of funding bioweapons research – with some Russia proxies using the labs to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
The Pentagon says it has invested $200 million in Ukraine since 2005 through its Biological Threat Reduction Program – an offshoot of the Nunn-Lugar program enacted after the end of the Cold War – and now works on research projects based on birds carrying viruses and the spread of swine flu.
The program has ‘improved Ukraine’s biological safety, security and surveillance for both human and animal health,’ according to the Pentagon, including by reducing the risk of the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program.
The relationship began as part of a U.S. effort to lock down unsecured biological materials after the fall of the Soviet Union, working directly with Russia and former republics. There is little known about the location of the labs, but reports in the past have suggested they have been equipped to work with deadly pathogens such as anthrax.
But Russia has used the information to accuse the U.S. and Ukraine of planning to use biological weapons – something the Biden Administration could be a signal of a planned ‘false flag’ operation.
China have also jumped on the claims and tweeted on March 8: ‘The US has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine alone. It should give a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad and subject itself to multilateral verification.’
But the U.S. has been open about the labs and on March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they too had advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent ‘any potential spills’ that would spread disease among the population.
How US biolabs in Ukraine have sparked conspiracy theories for decades – and how these claims accelerated after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Conspiracy theories about the ‘biolabs’ date back years – with the latest iteration surfacing just 10 days before Russia’s invasion, according the threat intelligence company Pyrra Technologies. Postings proliferated on the day of the invasion.
The Defense Department said in a fact sheet on March 11 that since 2005, it has spent $200 million in Ukraine supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities and diagnostic sites.
It works with Ukrainian health and agriculture ministries and agencies. Those organizations have limited contact with Ukraine’s military, providing mobile diagnostic labs in case of a public health emergency, according to the U.S. government.
‘These are all public health and veterinary labs,’ said Gregory Koblentz, director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University, according to Poynter. ‘None of them have been involved in biological warfare’.
The Pentagon, in its fact sheet, says it ‘has worked cooperatively and peacefully with the government of Ukraine to increase biosecurity and biosafety at these sites to ensure pathogens do not pose a risk to the people of Ukraine or the region,’ and says research has gone into topics like ‘preparing for and controlling African Swine Fever.’
Postings about the ‘biolabs’ appeared online just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and proliferated afterward, as Russia sought to justify an invasion it also claimed was required to ‘deNazify’ the country
Russia already illegally took possession of two such labs in 2014 and ‘continues to deny Ukrainian access to these facilities,’ according to the Defense Department.
‘After Russia launched its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health responsibly ordered the safe and secure disposal of samples,’ according to the fact sheet. ‘These actions limit the danger of an accidental release of pathogens should Russia’s military attack laboratories, a real concern since they have attacked Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and research facilities.’
A U.S. National Academy of Sciences report in 2012 stated that the Ukrainian facilities had been upgraded to work with some of the most dangerous substances in the world, including anthrax, which prompted the renewed fears of a spill.
Congress asks top State Department and National Intelligence officials about the labs and whether they have biological weapons
State Department official Victoria Nuland testified last week that ‘Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of.’
State Department official Victoria Nuland testified last week that ‘Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of’
‘So we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach,’ she said under questioning by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R).
She referred to Russia’s latest charges as the ‘classic Russian technique to blame the other guy what they’re planning to do themselves.’
The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Ukraine ‘operates a little over a dozen’ biolabs for biodefence and public health response. She said the US has, at least in the past, ‘provided assistance’ to the labs ‘in the context of biosafety’.
‘Which is something we have done with a variety of different countries,’ she added.
She said the labs were not being used to develop weapons.
‘We do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing either biological weapons or nuclear weapons. This influence campaign is consistent with long-standing Russian efforts to accuse the United States of sponsoring bioweapons. … This is a classic move by the Russians.’
The website of the US Embassy in Ukraine says: ‘The US Department of Defence’s Biological Threat Reduction Programme collaborates with partner countries to counter the threat of outbreaks (deliberate, accidental, or natural) of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases.
Former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard starts asking questions about the labs
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard faced heavy pushback and was accused of pushing Kremlin propaganda when she posted comments about ‘biolabs’ in Ukraine – and claimed there was a risk of dangerous pathogens escaping from the war zone.
After getting in an angry spat with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Gabbard sought to ‘clarify’ her remarks on Tuesday, and noted that in her latest comments she did not refer to biological weapons.
‘I’m not convinced there are biological weapons labs or biological weapons in Ukraine — that’s not what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the existence of the 25+ biological labs in that war zone,’ she said.
Then she spelled out differences between ‘biolabs’ and ‘bio weapons’ – although the Russians have not always made such distinctions in their online attacks, some of which appear designed to serve as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine.
The Pentagon says it has invested $200 million in Ukraine since 2005 through its Biological Threat Reduction Program – an offshoot of the Nunn-Lugar program enacted after the end of the Cold War
Tucker Carlson referred to a report authored by a Department of Defense director in February, warning that US-funded research in Ukrainian biolabs could be exploited by Russian invaders looking to develop a chemical weapon
‘Biolabs’, ‘bioweapons labs’, and ‘bioweapons’ are 3 very different things. But because these phrases are so similar, there is sometimes miscommunication and misunderstanding when discussing them,’ she tweeted. ‘I recently experienced this myself. So let me clarify,’ she began.
She went on to write that biolabs ‘are facilities which contain and experiment with dangerous pathogens, ostensibly for the purpose of serving the public good (i.e. vaccines, etc.),’ as distinct from biological weapons.
But that distinction sometimes gets lost.
‘The ‘biolabs’ are serving as a false justification for why Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s defensive,’ Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, told NBC. ‘They create a situation where they go to a populist audience, push out talking points, get the audience primed and make it true later.’
Gabbard gained a platform following her 2020 presidential campaign. She did not seek reelection to her House seat that year.
She has since been promoted to a Lt. Col. in the Army National Guard. She now serves as a civil affairs officer in Special Forces Command, which oversees the Green Berets.
‘Tulsi Gabbard’s comments made in her civilian capacity represent her views and not those of 1st Special Forces Command,’ unit spokesman Maj. Dan Lessard, said, Military.com reported.
She also posted a video in December 2021 while wearing her Army uniform. Some members of the military have faced discipline or gotten warnings for issuing political messages while in uniform.
Gabbard on Monday attacked Romney on Tucker Carlson’s show, after the Utah Senator called her a traitor for querying US funding given to Ukrainian biolabs – now at the mercy of Russia.
Speaking to the Fox News host hours after she called on the Utah senator to resign, the former Democratic lawmaker said: ‘First of all, I think it’s important to point out here that this is not a matter of disagreement or holding a dissenting view.
‘This is about facts and this is about the truth, so while senator Romney and all these different talking heads in the mainstream media are regurgitating Hillary Clinton’s slanderous talking points, the facts remain.
‘Number one is they are accusing me of saying that somehow there are bio weapons labs in Ukraine. I said no such thing at any point.’
Gabbard has raised questions about why the US funded labs in Ukraine that work with biological pathogens, some of which were once destined for Soviet-era bioweapons.
While that material can no longer be turned into weapons, it could still pose a great danger if it is allowed to defrost in the event of a Russian attack on labs where it is stored, causing the power to go off and it to defrost.
The Russians have put out information about the labs for years in what has been called a disinformation campaign, in statements tracked by EU vs. Disinfo
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sought to clarify her comments, and said she is not convinced there are ‘biological weapons’ labs in Ukraine
Gabbard slammed Utah senator Mitt Romney on Tucker Carlson’s show Monday after Romney blasted her for querying US funding to Ukrainian biolabs. The Biden Administration accuses Russia of referencing the labs as part of a disinformation campaign or even set up a ‘false flag’ chemical or biological attack
Gabbard continued: ‘I have said that there are bio labs in Ukraine that have received U.S. support that contain dangerous pathogens that if those labs are breached, then we in the world is facing a potential future of pandemics, that this is a dangerous crisis that needs to be addressed immediate, these pathogens need to be destroyed.
‘The second thing they are saying is they deny, even though there is a plethora of evidence that exists, they deny that these bio labs are even there, which is shocking to me, we heard over and over, you played so many clips from people in the mainstream media saying these bio labs, these supposed bio labs, as though they are some fantasy – when over and over and over again officials from our own government, department of state, department of defense, and so on, are saying these bio labs in Ukraine have dangerous pathogens and we are very concerned that they may be breached.
‘That is the concern that I’ve continued to raise because it is not left or right, Democrat or Republican, this is serious safety and health and life concern for the American people and people around the world, and so the media is lying.’
She earlier called on him to resign after he labelled her ‘a traitor’ for questioning U.S. support for biolabs in Ukraine.
‘.@MittRomney and others say that I’m treasonous because I called for a ceasefire around the 25+ biolabs in Ukraine to prevent the breach of such facilities & escape of pathogens, and prevent more pandemics,’ she tweeted.
‘Romney should resign.’
Gabbard initially sparked anger by asking on Sunday about the security of U.S.-backed laboratories in Ukraine.
The United States has for decades worked with scientists in Ukraine to transform their Soviet-era facilities, some of which were once used for bioweapons, into public health and research sites.
Gabbard asked what was happening in the labs, to prevent the pathogens escaping, and was described by Romney as backing Russian propaganda.
Romney attacked her despite a Department of Defense official warning last month that the labs could be vulnerable to a Russian attack. While the material stored within them could not be turned into weapons, the frozen pathogens could still prove very dangerous if the labs housing them are damaged and they’re allowed to defrost.
Russia has accused the U.S. of running bioweapons plants in Ukraine – something that few outside of Russia believe, and which is widely believed to be a myth.
‘Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda. Her treasonous lies may well cost lives,’ tweeted Romney.
Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee, has strongly criticized Gabbard for her remarks, which he saw as unpatriotic and supporting the Russian narrative
Gabbard was later asked by Tucker Carlson, Fox News host, about Romney’s remarks, and calling her a traitor.
Gabbard insisted that she did not reference – as Carlson did – bio weapons.
She said she only referenced the labs, but said she was the victim of a smear campaign.
‘I think it’s important to recognize that facts exist, especially in this case, facts exist and the truth is the first casualty of war. And so this is exactly what we are seeing here,’ she said.
‘People have a very specific agenda, refusing to recognize the truth, refusing to have a conversation and instead were immediately resorting to their tactics of silence, smear, and anyone who dares to say anything they don’t like.’
Gabbard is an Army Reserves Lieutenant Colonel posted to a Civil Affairs unit in California.
The report by Department of Defense director Robert Pope that sparked more theories and was behind Tucker Carlson’s Fox News segments
The labs Gabbard referred to use material which may have once been used to develop Soviet-era bioweapons, according to a report shared by a Department of Defense director, Robert Pope, in February.
He warned that the same material, which is frozen, could be released into the air with devastating consequences if the labs are damaged during fighting, and it is allowed to thaw.
He stressed, however, that they were not bioweapons facilities, but rather laboratories for medical and other research.
Pope’s report, and Carlson’s subsequent remarks, have been seized on by Russian propagandists to claim that the United States was actually developing biological weapons in the war-torn nation.
Carlson on Monday said: ‘The director of the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a man who would know – a man called Robert Pope – has confirmed that scientists are keeping Soviet-era pathogens for research purposes in Ukraine.
‘They told us they were destroying them. They should have destroyed them, but they haven’t.
‘What could go wrong in an active war zone? And they knew that those pathogens existed and were being experimented upon, researched.’
Pope’s bulletin in February said that some of the biological material had previously been used for Soviet-era bioweapons programs, but that Ukraine no longer had the ability to develop such weapons.
Commenting on the significant of Pope’s warning, Carlson continued: ‘And they didn’t secure them before the Russians invaded, though they knew the Russian invasion was coming because they told us.
‘And then, Toria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State who oversees this disaster, testified under oath that, yes, Russian forces might seize those biolabs in Ukraine, and we should all be very worried about that possibility.
‘Over the weekend, CBS News reported that Pentagon officials have confirmed that these biolabs in Ukraine are, in fact, conducting research on anthrax and other ‘deadly pathogens.’
Carlson’s broadcasts have been aired on Russian state television, furthering anger among his liberal detractors.
In response to questions from Reuters about its work with Ukraine ahead of and during Russia’s invasion, the WHO said in an email on Thursday that it has collaborated with Ukrainian public health labs for several years to promote security practices that help prevent ‘accidental or deliberate release of pathogens.’
‘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 WHO, a United Nations agency, said.
The WHO would not say when it had made the recommendation nor did it provide specifics about the kinds of pathogens or toxins housed in Ukraine’s laboratories.
The agency also did not answer questions about whether its recommendations were followed.
Carlson said on Monday: ‘Tulsi Gabbard addressed and only addressed the danger that innocent people could die because these weapons, apparently these pathogens, these agents, exist in Ukraine.
‘She didn’t blame him in Russia – she didn’t blame anybody. She just said this is a thing.
‘Unsecured bio weapons in a war zone are a bad idea. That’s not reasonable now? That’s treason?
‘Reason isn’t part of the way people are thinking now.
‘Everybody in leadership has completely lost the ability to think beyond the next week.
‘Who is thinking about tomorrow or next month or 20 years from now? Not one person.
‘And anyone who tries is an agent of Putin.’
Gabbard tweeted that her points were being misconstrued.
She said: ‘I’m not convinced there are biological weapons labs or biological weapons in Ukraine—that’s not what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the existence of the 25+ biological labs in that warzone.
”Biolabs’, ‘bioweapons labs’, and ‘bioweapons’ are 3 very different things.
‘But because these phrases are so similar, there is sometimes miscommunication and misunderstanding when discussing them. I recently experienced this myself. So let me clarify.
”Biolabs’ are facilities which contain and experiment with dangerous pathogens, ostensibly for the purpose of serving the public good (i.e. vaccines, etc.).
”Biological weapons labs’ are facilities which exist for the purpose of turning pathogens into weapons.
‘So they can be used against an enemy (i.e. ‘bioweapons’).
‘The danger of pathogens being released from biolabs in Ukraine is very real, and we need to take action immediately to prevent an impending catastrophe.’
Gabbard is known for courting controversy in foreign affairs.
In January 2017 she traveled to Syria to meet Bashar al-Assad, on a visit that was paid for and run by members of a Lebanese socialist-nationalist party that works closely with the Assad regime. She repaid the money later after criticism.
On the trip, she met only with the regime-approved ‘opposition’ who said they were against the rebellion against Assad, and she returned to the U.S. blaming Washington for the civil war in Syria.
Earlier this month, Adam Kinzinger, a Republican representing Illinois, went after Gabbard, reminding her of her support for Assad and saying she ‘defends him today’.
He called her a ‘defender of Russia’ whose claims serve as ‘Russian propaganda.’
Gabbard’s questioning of biolabs on Sunday followed remarks Russia made at the United Nations on Friday.
Russia’s claim, widely dismissed, that the U.S. is developing bioweapons in Ukraine raised alarm in the west, amid the suspicion that Russia could be plotting to use chemical or biological weapons as its invasion does not go as planned.
Gabbard’s appearances on Fox News with Tucker Carlson have appeared in Russian state-controlled media and have been used in the Kremlin’s misinformation campaign
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, accused Russia of ‘lying and spreading disinformation’ with its unfounded claims about biological weapons last week.
Russia has provided no evidence of the U.S. supporting Ukrainian bioweapons projects, although the U.S. embassy in Ukraine says the Defense Department’s Biological Threat Reduction Program works with the Ukrainian Government ‘to consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern in Ukrainian government facilities.’
The administration and Ukraine have vigorously denied Moscow’s claims of funding weapons research in Ukraine.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN on Friday accused the U.S. of funding into ‘vectors or potential agents of biological weapon’ including bats, birds, fleas, and lice.’
Russian state media has made use of Gabbard’s claims, which come as Moscow is seeking to portray Ukraine as both controlled by Nazis and threatening Russia with dangerous weapons.
Russia’s spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, also accused Ukraine of launching ‘attacks against their own nuclear facilities.’
Zakharova tweeted: ‘The blame for this lies squarely with Kiev, the American masters of Vladimir Zelensky and US vassals in @NATO.’
The administration fears Russia’s highlighting the conspiracy theory could foretell a new stage in the conflict.
‘The intent behind these lies seems clear, and is deeply troubling,’ said Thomas-Greenfield.
‘We believe Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations, as part of a staged or false-flag incident, or to support tactical military operations.’
Russia has long raised the allegations, which it brought up again last week as Russian forces pummeled Ukrainian cities.
A resident of Kyiv carries his cat that was rescued from his flat after it was hit by a shell as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the Obolon district in Kyiv on Monday