In an attempt to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian propagandists instigated a disinformation campaign that flooded the social media sites with false claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin is targeting US-run biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories. This sort of dissemination of disinformation from the agenda-ridden Russian agencies is not new, and allegations of a network of such laboratories along the borders of Russia were shared in the state-run media weeks before the invasion.
On Thursday, a Twitter user by the handle @WarClandestine spread a false narrative that Russia was targeting the sites of the US-run biological laboratories when it began invading its neighbouring country. The account got quickly suspended by Twitter but others shared the post and started using the hashtag #USbiolabs thus resulting in the spread of a chain of information deemed to be fake.
There are no US military-run laboratories operating in Ukraine, stated Andy Weber, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors and a former assistant secretary of defence for nuclear, chemical, and biological defence programs. “Rather, the US Department of Defence Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has provided technical assistance to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health since 2005 with the view to improve public health laboratories, whose objective is analogous to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention,” Weber claimed.
“These laboratories have recently played a very critical role in stopping the spread of Covid-19,” he added.
The Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program,also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program (named after the senators who passed the Soviet Threat Reduction Act), began after the disintegration and fall of the USSR in 1991 to ensure the reduction of the threat of existing weapons of mass destruction. It is housed within the Defence Threat Reduction Agency of the Defence Department, according to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
False allegations regarding bio-labs are so prevalent that the Defence Threat Reduction Agency released a video on January 11 to counter the claims and explain what the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program actually does. In the video, Chris Spark, a State Department official, spoke at the UN to respond to the allegations coming from China and Russia about “suspicious activity” at the setting up or operation of laboratories in the region. He rubbished off the claims calling them “pure disinformation”.
Park asserted that the program “works to build capacity around the world to prevent and mitigate infectious disease.”
As per the US Embassy in Ukraine, the Biological Threat Reduction Program “works with allies to counter the threat of outbreaks (intentional, accidental or natural) of the most dangerous infectious disease in the world.”
According to the Atlantic Council, a think tank, Russian propagandists have never left a chance to spread propaganda in Ukraine, including claims that these biolabs are experimenting on unsuspecting citizens.
Popular fact-checking site Snopes reported that this most recent claim is false.
Similar claims were made against Lugar Lab in Georgiain 2018, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Last year, Russia and China began spreading the false information that the US has set up bio-labs along each of their borders, insinuating that America is responsible for unleashing the deadly Covid-19, the Daily Beast reported. The recent claim is built on this false notion and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being justified by stating that Russia is attempting to stop the next pandemic.
“There has been a Soviet-style disinformation campaign spreading such lies for over a decade,” Weber said. “It harkens back to the Soviet KGB ‘Operation Infection’ disinformation campaign to spread the total fabrication that HIV-AIDS originated in a US military lab.”
In sum, considering the facts that there is no evidence that Russia was targeting ‘US bio-labs’ when they launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine and that the labs, which though may be funded by the US, are run by the partnering countries, this ongoing claim can be dismissed as a manipulative strategy of the agenda-ridden Russian agencies to justify the invasion.