Five False Allegations Against Richard Lugar Laboratory of Tbilisi

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Five False Allegations Against Richard Lugar Laboratory of Tbilisi
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In September-October, the Lugar Laboratory once again sparked the interest of the Russian media (YouTube channel Military Arsenal, Svpessa.ru) and Georgian pro-Kremlin sources (Georgia and the World, Beka Vardosanidze, Facebook account Lasha Modebadze). During this period, the aforementioned sources made the following new allegations directed against the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research:

  1. Military Arsenal – Военный Арсенал (Source: Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch), Beka VardosanidzeGeorgia and World (Source: Svpessa.ru, Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch), Lasha Modebadze (Source: Dilyana Gaytandzieva  – Arms Watch): Lugar Lab cooperated with the EcoHealth Alliance to artificially create the coronavirus; COVID-19 was ‘leaked’ from the Lugar Lab, as the center hosts a special program about bats and coronaviruses since 2017.
  2. Military Arsenal (Source: Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch), Georgia and World (Source: Svpessa.ru, Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch): A new lab called VSL-2 is being built in Georgia, which will not be controlled by the Georgian government.
  3. Military Arsenal (Source: Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch),  Georgia and World (Source: Svpessa.ru,  Dilyana Gaytandzieva – Arms Watch): Georgian military servicemen took part in an experiment conducted by Lugar Lab and became infected with tularemia in unknown circumstances.
  4. Georgia and World (Source: Svpessa.ru, Arms Watch), Lasha Modebadze (Source:Arms Watch): Patients involved in the Lugar Lab Hepatitis Program died of unknown causes.
  5. Lasha Modebadze (Source: Arms Watch): The U.S. is collecting genetic material from people of the Caucasus that may be used to create ethnic bio-weapons; Out of the 12 employees of the ‘Bat research program’ at the Lugar Center, 7 of them were involved in creating bioweapons.

video published on a Russian YouTube channel was shared into a number of Georgian Facebook groups, including the group consisting of the supporters of Levan Vasadze, also  “კორონაფია და საქართველო როგორც საექსპერიმეტო ქვეყანა”[Corona Mafia and Georgia as an experimental country], “ანტი-მასონობა, “ანტიქრისტეს” ახლაი მსოფლიო წესრიგი, ანტი-ეკუმენიზმი”,[Ant-masonry, New world order of the Antichrist, Anti-ecumenism], “ნაძალადევის მაჟორიტარი კანდიდატი გია ყრუაშვილის მხარდამჭერები”, a Czech Facebook group Trikolóra Hnutí Občanů and the Facebook page “დედოფალი”[Queen]. The video was also shared by Beka Vardosanidze on his personal page; Beka Vardosanidze’s posts were shared by the Facebook account Gabriel Mikaladze, who often spreads anti-vaccine narratives. Lugar Lab was also linked to the coronavirus by the account Tsotne Kverselava.

The allegations shared by Russian media and Georgian pro-Kremlin sources contain 5 disinformation elements.

Disinformation N1:  Lugar Lab cooperated with the EcoHealth Alliance to artificially create the coronavirus; COVID-19 was ‘leaked’ from the Lugar Lab, as the center hosts a special program about bats and coronaviruses since 2017.

The video published by the Russian YouTube channel Military Arsenal links the origin of Covid-19 to Lugar Laboratory and cites documents published on Arms Watch as evidence. The same source has been used by the Russian online publication Svpessa.ru, the material of which has been later published by Georgia and the world. The article of the Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzieva on Arms Watch is also the source of Lasha Modebadze’s posts, while Beka Vardosanidze used the documents published on the portal to ground the arguments mentioned in his posts. The materials showcased on Arms Watch, claiming that Lugar Lab has links to the spread of Covid-19, talk about the partnership between the Lugar Lab and the EcoHealth Alliance in the framework of the ongoing studies on bats and coronaviruses. The evidence for Lugar Lab’s involvement in the artificial creation of Covid-19 is based on articles published by Dilyana Gaytandzieva in September 2020. In an article published on April 30th, 2020, Gaytandzieva cited documents that were not available to the general public. The documents talked about a project to study zoonotic pathogens in bats in the Lugar laboratory. Articles published on September 6th of the same year concerned the collaboration among the Lugar Lab and the EcoHealth Alliance. This topic resurfaced recently following the emergence of questions regarding the EcoHealth Alliance’s partnership with Wuhan laboratories. Both Gaytandzieva’s article and YouTube video,  as well as other online publications and Facebook posts, have linked the organization to the emergence of Covid-19.

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In reality, the documents concerned a project implemented in collaboration with the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) and the Georgian and American Centers for Disease Control to study zoonotic pathogens in bats. The project itself has never been classified, the information being published in the reports of both the Georgian Center for Disease Control and ISTC. As for the confidential documents released by Gaytandzieva, they contained information about staff salaries and contact details, which are personal data and, as a rule, should not be made public. Hence, This document cannot serve as proof to support the idea about the artificial creation of the coronavirus pandemic, as it simply confirms the fact that the staff has been paid to conduct research. The results of the study on zoonotic diseases are reflected in the dissertation of Lela Urushadze, senior specialist and virologist at the Center for Disease Control. The study was conducted in 2012 and 2014. Similar studies on bats are being carried out in laboratories around the world, including Russia.

As for the partnership between the two establishments, EcoHealth Alliance is an American non-governmental organization that aims to protect humans and animals from new viral diseases. The organization is involved in numerous studies around the world to prevent pandemics. According to the information posted on their website, in October 2017, the organization has launched a bat research project in Western Asia aimed at studying bats and related coronaviruses in the region. Noteworthy, bats naturally carry different types of coronaviruses, therefore, implying that the research conducted at Lugar Lab was a priori linked with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic is wrong. Only 7 coronaviruses can invoke the disease after penetrating the human body. All of them were studied by scientists long before the emergence of Covid-19. The primary aim of the project was to study the diversity of bats and related viruses in the region. Representatives of the organization conducted trainings in catching bats safely and taking non-lethal samples from them. The project created a network of researchers to study zoonotic diseases and use the framework developed by the organization to work out the best ways to prevent the transmission of zoonotic pathogens to humans.

According to the description of the project,  Lugar Lab researchers Dr Keti Sidamonidze, Lela Urushadze and their team were involved in the research. The study was conducted in strict compliance with biosafety standards. The group of Georgian scientists has undergone special training in the best practices of biosafety.

Therefore, the allegation based on the above-mentioned information around the alleged role of the Lugar Lab in the artificial manufacturing of the Covid-19 is disinformation.

Disinformation and manipulative references to the ongoing study of bats at the Lugar Center and its connection to the spread of Covid-19 have been circulating since 2020. For more information on the Lugar Laboratory and its connection to the Coronavirus, see Myth Detector materials:

The allegations against the EcoHealth Alliance also concerned the virus enrichment attempts at Wuhan Laboratory. Nonetheless, this allegation is groundless as well. Read more:
What did the EcoHealth Alliance research in Wuhan and was it linked to the spread of Covid-19?

Disinformation N2: A new lab called VSL-2 is being built in Georgia, which will not be controlled by the Georgian government.

The video of Military Arsenal further claimed that Georgia will soon host an additional lab called VSL-2, which will not be controlled by the Georgian government. Based on the video, the same information has been disseminated by Svpessa.ru and Georgia and World. Both publications indicated Arms Watch as the primary source.

An article by Dilyana Gaytandzieva on Arms Watch, published on September 6th, 2020, claims that the United States plans to turn Georgia into the largest overseas center for biological research and to build a new laboratory. Based on this information, the Russian YouTube video as well as other online publications assumed that the Georgian government will not have control over the new laboratory. Noteworthy, before the publication of the aforementioned documents, in September 2020, Lugar Laboratory suffered a foreign cyberattack. The attack was shortly followed by the dissemination of the leaked documents of the laboratory by Gaytandzieva and Lasha Modebadze’s fake account.

The information regarding the alleged initiative to build a new laboratory in Georgia for a 16-member brigade of American military doctors and leading specialists of the CDC, which will not be under the jurisdiction of Georgia, is disinformation. While it is indeed planned to build a new laboratory near Lugar Laboratory, the construction became necessary not to accommodate American experts, but to expand the existing activities of the laboratory. It should be noted that this laboratory, as well as the Lugar Center itself, will be subordinated to the Georgian National Center for Disease Control.

Myth Detector contacted the Georgian Center for Disease Control, which clarified that the existing (BSL-2) lab space is no longer sufficient due to the increase in the number of activities carried out by the laboratory over the years (hepatitis B and C, safe blood program, COVID-19 related activities, etc.). Consequently, it became necessary to build a new laboratory of the same type, which is managed by the Center for Disease Control.

Disinformation N3: Georgian military servicemen took part in an experiment conducted by Lugar Lab and became infected with tularemia in unknown circumstances.

The video of Military Arsenal, as well as the materials of Georgia and World and Svpessa.ru, claim that as a result of an experiment conducted in Lugar Laboratory, Georgian servicemen were infected with tularemia in unknown circumstances. Once again, all of them cite the material of Dilyana Gaytandzieva published in Arms Watch as their primary source.

In an article published on Arms Watch on September 6th, 2020, Gantanjeva writes that scientific studies show that tularemia research experiments were performed on soldiers in Lugar Laboratory, however, they do not explain how soldiers developed tularemia and why they participated in the project in the first place.

The allegation that following a study conducted at Lugar Laboratory, soldiers were infected with tularemia in unknown circumstances is disinformation. Myth Detector contacted the Georgian Center for Disease Control to verify the information. The Center explained that in 2013-2016, the laboratory was implementing the project “GG-19 – Tularemia Epidemiology and Ecology in Georgia”, funded by the Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defence, which sought to study the epidemiology of tularemia in mites and fleas and aimed at the genetic characterization of circulating strains in the country.

More importantly, up to 500 military servicemen indeed participated in the study, although their participation was voluntary. Instead of the experimental group, the servicemen were included in the control group, which consisted of healthy people from different regions. Only blood samples were taken from the control group and examined by serological methods, which would exclude the possibility for the control group to be infected with tularemia.

Disinformation N4: Patients involved in the Lugar Lab Hepatitis Program died of unknown causes.

Disinformation related to Hepatitis C has been spread in Georgian and Russian media since 2018. Namely, Georgia’s ex-security chief, Igor Giorgadze has been claiming that secret experiments on the population are being carried out in the Lugar laboratory under the Hepatitis C program, as a result of which a number of people have died in unknown circumstances. According to them, the Lugar laboratory produces an experimental drug, which, in general, costs 80,000 dollars and is free for the Georgian population. At different times, the information was shared by 1 каналРоссия-24РЕН ТВ, “Звезда” НТВ, Sputnik-Georgia’s Russian-language website and Georgian-language online editions (Saqinform).

The allegations are false since the Lugar Laboratory is involved only in the part of diagnostics rather than treatment of the Hepatitis C elimination program.
For more details about the Hepatitis C elimination program and the role of the Lugar Lab in it, see our articles:

Disinformation N5: The U.S. is collecting genetic material from people of the Caucasus that may be used to create ethnic bio-weapons; Out of the 12 employees of the ‘Bat research program’ at the Lugar Center, 7 of them were involved in creating bioweapons.

The allegation that Lugar Laboratory is utilized by the U.S. to produce biological weapons is disinformation. Similar information has been repeatedly voiced by both Georgian pro-Russian actors and Russia itself. For example, on May 26th, 2020, the Russian government accused the Lugar Center of producing biological weapons and thus violating the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons.

In response to the Russian government’s accusations, the Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on May 27th, rejecting the violation of the Biological Weapons Convention by the Lugar Center. It noted that the Lugar Center functions as an integral laboratory unit of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. The facility represents the highest level institution of the Laboratory Network of Disease Epidemiological Surveillance which, itself, is a referral center of the Georgian Public Health System. The Ministry clarified that any research or activity at the facilities of the Center is carried out by the relevant experts exceptionally under the coordination and management of the competent Georgian agencies.

The same statement reads that three virology (poliomyelitis, influenza and measles) laboratories accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) operate in the Center. Besides, under international quality control, the following laboratories operate at the facility: the diagnosis of rotavirus, invasive meningitis, malaria, antibiotic resistance, diphtheria and salmonellosis. The Center has an international ISO accreditation for clinical laboratory research.

For more details about the conspiracies around the Lugar Lab in the context of biological weapons production, see our articles:

About the Sources

If in previous years the campaign against Lugar Laboratory featured Bulgarian journalist Diliana Gatanjieva – an affiliate of TV Zvezda, owned by the Russian Ministry of Defense, pro-Kremlin media “Georgia and World” and the fake Facebook account Lasha Modebadze, recently blogger Beka Vardasanidze, who is affiliated with Levan Vasadze’s ‘ERI’ has also become more active. Several additional Russian sources have surfaced, (Military Arsenal, “Free Press”), which repeat the story told by Gaytandzieva.

Military Arsenal

The Russian-language YouTube channel Military Arsenal was created on October 29th, 2018. According to the description, in addition to the current political processes in Russia and the world, the channel covers news in the field of arms and security. The channel has 570 thousand subscribers and has accumulated a total of 421,109,797 views. The channel features Alexey Petrov’s Facebook account in the description section, who is the alleged moderator of the channel.

The channel mainly consists of videos containing anti-Western narratives, as well as often spreading disinformation about Georgia and Ukraine. For example, on October 17th, 2021, the channel posted a video with the following headline: “Urgent! “Georgia and Ukraine are sabotaging Russian Crimea.” The video claimed that Georgian and Ukrainian soldiers were being trained in the NATO training centres located in Georgia to instigate tensions in Crimea.

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Svpessa.ru

„Свободная пресса“ is a Russian-language online media outlet operating since November 1st, 2008. The site publishes various types of news, blogs and expert opinions on political, social, economic and cultural topics on a daily basis. The publication has hosts independent contributors along with the editorial board. Among them are Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party, and Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front.

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Arms Watch

The website Arms Watch is founded by Dilyana Gaytandzieva. According to Whois Lookup, the country of registration of the page is Bulgaria, while the registration date being March 27th, 2019. The page is devoted to investigative journalism and publishes conspiratorial materials on topics such as armaments, armed conflict, defence and security.

The mission of the page reads that Gaytandzieva decided to create the website after seizing secret documents signed between state leaders and arms dealers in armed conflict zones.

The first post on the website was published on June 14th, 2019. It should also be noted that the vast majority of the articles published on the page were prepared by Dilyana Gaytandzieva herself.

Arms Watch has its own FacebookInstagram and Twitter pages, where the materials posted on the page are regularly shared. The accounts also share posts posted on Gaytandzieva’s personal page, which gives the impression that the accounts are run by Dilyana Gaytandzieva herself.

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See the detailed profile of Dilyana Gaytandzieva here.
See the detailed profile of ‘Georgia and World’ here.

Blogger Beka Vardosanidze 

Beka Vardosanidze is a blogger affiliated with Levan Vasadze and his party “Unity, Essence, Hope (ERI)”, who often shares disinformation related to the coronavirus and the vaccines. Vardosanidze actively covers rallies held by anti-vaxxers. Myth Detector has been repeatedly verifying disinformation spread by him in the past:

Facebook Account Lasha Modebadze

Lasha Modebadze is allegedly a fake report, the profile of which does not provide personally identifiable information. The account often spreads conspiracy theories about world elite rule, as well as disinformation about the coronavirus and Covid-19 vaccines. Lasha Modebadze has been actively spreading disinformation about Lugar Laboratory in the past as well. For more information, see the materials prepared by “Myth Detector”:


The article has been written in the framework of Facebook’s fact-checking program. You can read more about the restrictions that Facebook may impose based on this article via this link. You can find information about appealing or editing our assessment via this link.

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Violation: Disinformation
Source

Source

Gaytandzhieva Dilyana
Gaytandzhieva Dilyana

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Geworld.ge
Geworld.ge
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