On February 9, 2018, an online edition Georgia and the World released an article titled “What are the links between the flies spreading Leishmaniasis and the death of two Filipino men working at the Lugar Laboratory.” The author of the article that was dedicated to the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research links the spread of various diseases in Georgia, Ukraine and Russia to the ongoing research programs at the Tbilisi-based lab. The publication by Bulgarian journalist, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva is cited as the source. The article also quotes Eter Sikharulidze, a local of Alekseevka settlement, as saying that the two Filipino men working at the Lugar Laboratory died from unknown diseases.
Georgia and the World is circulating conspiracy theories about the Lugar Laboratory and the reports provided in the article are not scientifically based. In addition, Filipino workers were involved in the construction of the Lugar Laboratory in 2011. Thus, they could not have been infected with a virus spread from the facility that was under construction, as the lab launched functioning only in 2013.
1. Filipino construction workers
The Myth Detector was informed by the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) that two citizens of the Philippines were only involved in the construction of the laboratory in 2011. The lab launched functioning in 2013; so, the Filipino construction workers could not have been infected from the facility that was still under construction in 2011.
2. Who is Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva is a Bulgarian journalist who released an investigative material titled “The Pentagon Bio-Weapons” on an English-language portal South Front on January 16, 2018. The portal is administered from Russia and it is registered on Russian domain, which frequently publishes conspiracy theories about military issues and intelligence. The same material in Russian was published by a web portal Новостной Фронт (News Front), which recognizes the independence of Donbass and notes that the purpose of the edition is to defend the interests of Russian civilization.
Before August 2017, Gaytandzhieva worked for a Bulgarian newspaper Труд, where she released an article on July 4, 2017 about the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry allegedly corresponding with the Azerbaijani Embassy to Bulgaria on supplying weapons to terrorists in Syria through diplomatic flights. She also claimed that the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and other countries were also involved in the process.
The article by Gaytandzhieva was reposted by Bulgarian print media, 80% of which is controlled by pro-Russian oligarch and member of the Bulgarian Parliament, Delyan Peevski. According to the Bulgarian media outlets, the companies affiliated with Delyan Peevski were involved in the construction of the South Stream, a pipeline project to transport natural gas of the Russian Federation to Europe via Bulgaria, which actually represented an alternative to a Western-backed proposal for a pipeline, called Nabucco. Nabucco would have reduced Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
Before working for Труд newspaper, Gaytandzhieva worked for the fourth most-watched Bulgarian television channel TV7, which was controlled by Tsvetan Vassilev, the main shareholder in Corporate Commercial Bank. In 2013, 9.9% of Corpbank shares were purchased by Russia’s largest bank VTB. In 2016, Bulgaria filed a $1.3 billion lawsuit against Tsvetan Vassilev, accusing him of using bank funds to acquire property and other assets that led to a subsequent liquidity crisis at the bank. In 2015, TV7 was taken over by Louvrier Investment Company, managed by Pierre Louvrier. The latter has links to Russian oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev who has been sanctioned by the European Union for his “financial support to separatists” in Eastern Ukraine. Simultaneously, Malofeev owns a conservative TV channel in Russia, Царьград ТВ with Aleksandr Dugin being its editor-in-chief in 2015-2016.
Conspiracies about the Lugar Laboratory
Conspiracy theories about the Lugar Laboratory have been disseminated over the years. Since 2012, pro-Kremlin and ethno-nationalist publications, as well as various respondents and civil society organizations have been repeatedly disseminating disinformation about the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research.
In 2014, pro-Kremlin editions, Sakinformi and Geworld.ge portrayed the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research as a threat, thus trying to demonize the United States. In 2015, Obieqtivi TV aired Russian-language stories prepared by МИР, Россия, 31 КАНАЛ and RBK TV, accusing the Tbilisi-based lab of conducting biological experiments on Georgian population. Not only various interpretations have not decreased over the years, but other sources have even intensified black propaganda against the lab.
Conspiracies about the Lugar Laboratory in Georgian sources are in line with Russian messages. Russian media outlets and politicians have been disseminating disinformation about the Lugar Laboratory since the day of its establishment. Russian actors accuse the lab of spreading viruses in Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s former chief sanitary doctor, Gennady Onishchenko was one of the authors of such messages who claimed that there might be certain links between the emergence of Zika virus and the Lugar laboratory. “This is just the Lugar Laboratory where mosquitoes are deliberately infected with Zika virus,” he said.
Conspiracy Theories and Pseudo-Science: platforms exert huge influence on target audience through using conspiracies and pseudo-science. Similar methods promote sowing fear and doubts among the population. Scientific and expert opinions, as well as authentic scientific papers are totally neglected. It is difficult to break through the circle of conspiracies, because the propagandists depict the facts debunking conspiracies as yet another “proof” of conspiracy.
Ad nauseam involves continuous repetition of the same idea so often that people start seeing the falsehood as the truth.
About the Laboratory
The key priorities of the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research, U.S.-funded biological research laboratory in Georgia are:
- Food safety – the laboratory is cooperating with the Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture in terms of biological research of food products.
- Protection of Georgian citizens against epidemics and infectious diseases – through timely diagnosis and prevention of detected or spread epidemics both in animals and humans.
- Biological disaster threat reduction – that will contribute to the security in Georgia and globally.
- Scientific-research direction – the Lugar Center provides venues for training of graduate and doctoral level students from different universities, among them from neighboring countries.