Two weeks into the invasion of Ukraine, Russia claimed that US-funded labs in Ukraine are into making bioweapons, which has made many many global media outlets seek truth from the United States.
A spokesperson for the Chinese government called on the Pentagon to disclose details on biolabs in Ukraine, while Fox News host Tucker Carlson questioned the US on this claim. Carlson’s video clip uploaded to YouTube on 9 March 2022 received more than 1.8 million views. China’s Global News too questioned the US funding such labs.
Several news outlets picked this claim that such bioweapons labs pose threat to Russia, including Indian news channels.
Russia alleged that Ukraine had stored a high number of pathogens and destroyed them to hide illegal research. Russian General Igor Kirillov said documents uncovered by the Russian military in Ukraine on 24 February when the war broke out, show that the Ministry of Health of Ukraine had destroyed bio-agents in laboratories. “It’s highly likely that Ukraine and the United States will be found to have violated the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons,” he said.
It is known that the US Biological Threat Reduction Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, has been funding several labs across the world, including Wuhan lab though the Eco Health Alliance. Even Ukraine labs are part of the program since 2005. Though Russia claimed that these are “secret” labs, details of US funding can be found on the US embassy’s website.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) had even given funding to the Eco Health Alliance which partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory in Wuhan, China — the city where the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to have begun — a five-year grant which was due to run through 2024, but terminated in April 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19.
Similarly, numerous labs word wide have been funded for research on local viruses and the result could be seen in the wake of Covid-19 when they were quick to share the information about the Covid viruses with GAVI, the vaccine alliance consisting of several countries including China and India. All these labs are owned by partner countries, not by the US.
Secondly, the US Department of Defense denied the allegations of Russia as false. It said that there are five biological research labs in Kyiv and the work on diagnostics, therapeutics, treatments, prevention and vaccines, not on military use as the Russians and Chinese accuse, the official said.
“There are no DOD bio-weapon labs in Ukraine,” the official said. Under the Biological Weapons Convention, the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons is prohibited and the US, Ukraine and Russia are signatories of the convention, he pointed out.
Further, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv issued a statement that the aim of the Biological Threat Reduction Program is to “counter the threat of outbreaks (deliberate, accidental, or natural) of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases”.
Why WHO Advised Ukraine to destroy pathogens
The issue further reached peak when the WHO advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens stored at the country’s public health labs to prevent “any potential spills” in case of possible bombings on these labs.
Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity expert at King’s College London told BBC: “There are no indications that Ukrainian labs have been involved in any nefarious activity, or any research or development in contravention of the Biological Weapons Convention.” The pathogens are simply bacteria and viruses, and “not blueprints or components of biological weapons,” she added.
Secondly, responding to Gen Kirillov’s claim that the highly militarised nature of the work at Ukrainian bio-labs is confirmed by “excess number of bio-pathogens” stored there, which was denied by experts. Dr Filippa Lentzos said there’s no logic in the argument. “The numbers don’t really matter, you can easily grow pathogens in a lab” with the help of a small sample.
Further, “these labs publish in openly available literature,” said Brett Edwards, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath in an exclusive to BBC.
Claim: High number of pathogens in US-funded biological labs in Ukraine indicates research on bioweapons.
Conclusion: Millions of pathogens can be developed from one simple sample and the numbers do not matter. The Russian side evidence is insufficient to conclude.
Rating: Misleading —