After the first recorded cases of coronavirus in Georgia openly pro-Kremlin Facebook pages are conducting smear campaign against Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi. For instance, on February 26-27, Kremlin-associated editions News Front Georgia and Georgia and the World, as well as a Facebook page “Stalin” shared the articles prepared by Georgia and the World in 2014 and 2017 targeting Lugar Lab.
Lugar Laboratory plays a pivotal role in diagnosing coronavirus. Myth Detector contacted the Director of National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, Amiran Gamkrelidze, who stated that without Lugar Laboratory, they would have had to set up the necessary equipment in other laboratories. He also added that it is Russia who disseminates myths about Lugar Laboratory.
Amirak Gamkrelidze: “Lugar Laboratory is one of the main parts of the country’s biological security. That is where Coronavirus is being diagnosed. Lab research is conducted in line with current biological security standards and it has a very strong laboratory for respiratory viruses that has a broad experience of working with respiratory viruses (influenza, other corona viruses etc.). Hence, of course, Lugar Laboratory is one of our largest assets. If not for Lugar Laboratory, we would have had to set up the equipment in other laboratories. This (the dissemination of myths) is done by only one country – no other country would come up with such ideas. It is our big neighbor who, in this way, simply tries to achieve its political goals, nothing else.“
Conspiracy theories about Lugar Lab are periodically disseminated by different sources. For instance, in January 2019, one of the former leaders of the Georgian March, Lado Sadghobelashvili, claimed that the Swine Flu, which has been around since 2009, only existed in Georgia and that it was spread by Lugar Laboratory, which was opened in 2011.
Various other conspiracy theories about Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research have been disseminated for years and the source has always been either the Government of Russia or pro-Kremlin media.
- In 2018, a Press-Secretary of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance of Russia (“Rosselkhoznadzor”), Yulia Melano accused Lugar Laboratory of disseminating the Asian Stink Bug in Abkhazia.
- A deputy of Russian Federation State Duma and the former Chief Sanitary Inspector, Genady Onishchenko accused Lugar Center in 2016 of artificially producing Zika virus, while in 2013 he associated the dissemination of African Swine Fever Virus with it.
- Rossiya 24, Vesti, October 4. Igor Kozhevin, the host: “The Ministry of Defense analyzed documents about the so-called Center for Public Health Research that Americans have built in Georgia. According to the information retrieved, Pentagon has been disseminating the African Swine Fever Virus in Russia precisely from this Center.”
Real Facts about Lugar Lab
Priorities of Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi include:
- Food security – the laboratory cooperates with the Central Agricultural Laboratory in the direction of biological research of food products;
- Protection of the citizens of Georgia from epidemic diseases – through timely diagnosing and prevention of newly found or disseminated epidemics both among animals and humans;
- Decreasing the threat of biological catastrophes – the capacities of the Center are widely used to prepare master’s and doctorate students and for scientific research in various universities, including those from the neighboring countries.