New Wave of Kremlin Disinformation Regarding the Biosafety Cooperation between the US and Ukraine

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Reading Time: 8 minutes


On September 19th, 2022, Russian state-controlled media, including Channel One, РИА Новости, TASS, Правда, Московский Комсомолец, Sputnik-Abkhazia reported that US officials have admitted conducting biological experiments on low-income citizens and patients of psychiatric clinics in Ukraine. Russian and Belarusian media also reported that the US admitted exporting pathogenic strains from Ukraine. Russian media has disseminated the above-mentioned information based on the briefing of the head of radiation, chemical and biological defence troops of the Russian Federation, Igor Kirillov, which concerned the meeting of the countries participating in the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons in Geneva. During the conference, the Russian Federation raised questions regarding cooperation between Ukraine and the US in the field of biosecurity. According to the Russian side, the responding parties provided unsatisfactory information and the questions remained unanswered. The information spread by the Kremlin media in the context of the Geneva conference creates the impression that the US has admitted that Russia’s accusations were true.

On September 19-20th, similar information was published in Russian-language Facebook groups (1,2) and in the Georgian-language group “Antilab-Georgia.” The information was disseminated by Georgian individual Facebook users (1, 2).

The Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian media use the Geneva Conference to disseminate disinformation. Neither within the framework of the conference nor after it, did the US admit any of the accusations voiced by Russia. The arguments presented by Ukraine and the US at the Geneva conference, as well as the comments of the delegations of other participating countries, make it clear that Russia’s accusations are part of an ongoing baseless disinformation campaign.

Within the framework of the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons, member states have the right to request an official meeting to discuss possible violations. Russia used this right and addressed the US and Ukraine with questions regarding the violation of the obligations imposed by the convention. These questions were largely related to cooperation between the US and Ukraine in the field of biosecurity. The meetings were held behind closed doors. Reports related to the conference are published on the UN website.

The US and Ukraine did not admit to committing any of the accusations voiced by Russia during the Geneva Conference, on the contrary, the responding parties submitted extensive reports (1,2), which confirm that Russia’s accusations about the development of biological weapons and dangerous scientific activities in Ukraine are baseless and represent a part of an ongoing large-scale disinformation campaign. Discussions around the issue in Geneva concluded on September 9th. Eighty-nine states participated in the meeting. The participants did not reach any kind of consensus. On September 13th, the US State Department issued an additional statement, noting that the framework of the meeting, experts who are members of the delegations of the US and Ukraine once again explained that the cooperation between Ukraine and the US in the field of biosecurity is not only consistent with—but further supports—the provisions of the BWC. It is also mentioned that before hearing the reports of the US and Ukraine, Russia started distributing the text of the preliminary joint statement among the participants, which included Russia’s conclusion regarding the meeting.

Accusations presented by Russia in Geneva and the response of the US and Ukraine

Several issues emerge from the questions presented by Russia to Ukraine and the US in Geneva. Russia questions the activities of the Mechnikov Research Institute in Odessa, noting that the institute harbors a large number of pathogens that cause cholera and anthrax. According to the Russian side, dangerous pathogens are stored only in those laboratories that were funded by the US Department of Defense. Russian side further argued that within the framework of the agreement signed in 2005 between the US and Ukraine in the field of biosecurity, the Ukrainian side is obliged to hand over various biological samples obtained in Ukraine to the US. The Russian statement also mentions that Ukrainian laboratories are conducting research on disease-causing pathogens that are not endemic to Ukraine, which raises questions about the purely scientific nature of such research. Russia questions the activities of private American companies Black & Veatch, Special Projects Corp., CH2M Hill, Metabiota in Ukraine and focuses on scientific studies UP-4 and P-781, linking them to plans of artificially spreading diseases. In the questions asked to the US, Russia highlights the issue of the spread of diseases by drones, and in the questions asked to Ukraine, it connects the spread of diseases by drones to drones of Turkish production.

The Ukrainian and American sides stressed that the information related to the 2005 agreement and all terms of the agreement are freely accessible on the website of the Ukrainian Rada and do not constitute any kind of secret clauses. The agreement entails cooperation in the field of biosecurity, in particular, to prevent the spread of technologies, pathogens and knowledge that can be used to create biological weapons. Within the framework of cooperation, Ukraine was able to upgrade important research laboratories and modernize the certification and accreditation process. In cooperation with the company Black & Veach, the integrity of which Russia has questioned, Ukraine adopted an electronic infectious disease registration system, EIDSS, which is used for monitoring. The laboratories on the territory of Ukraine are under the control of Ukraine and under the Ministry of Health. The work on pathogens at the Mechnikov Institute in Odessa was part of a wider study, within the framework of which the evaluation of bacterial and infectious pathogens stored in laboratories in the territory of Ukraine and, as a result, the final development of a strategy for working on them took place. Ukraine’s biosafety strategy is in compliance with international standards, including the Convention on Biological Safety, and is also available on the Rada website. It should be noted that this strategy also envisages a mandatory audit of research institutes.

On the other hand, at the Geneva conference, the US side noted that the accusations related to the storage of pathogens in the laboratories participating in the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) and the request to send samples of various biological materials collected in Ukraine to the US are a misinterpretation of the 2005 agreement. During the report, the representative of the US delegation and the deputy director of the BTRP-program, Kevin Garrett, noted that the US asked Ukraine to store dangerous pathogens in the laboratories after the program updates. These updates were specifically aimed at improving the quality of the laboratory infrastructure and biosecurity measures. Therefore, it is natural that dangerous pathogens should be kept in specially renovated laboratories for their safe storage. As for the “transfer of pathogens” to the US, in fact, the 2005 agreement entails sharing of scientific information with the US, which not only does not violate the biosafety agreement, but on the contrary, the sharing of scientific data and information in the field of biosafety between the countries participating in the convention is based on a transparent process and is, in fact, encouraged.

Ukraine and the US also provided detailed information regarding the UP-4 and P-781 studies. The project code UP-4 corresponds to the assessment of the risks of migration of particularly dangerous pathogens by migratory birds over the territory of Ukraine, and the project code P-781 corresponds to the study of the spread of infections by bats in Ukraine and Georgia. The representative of the US delegation, the scientific head of the BTRP program, Rebecca Dunphy, also noted that the names UP-4 and P-781 are simply identification codes, U is the initials of Ukraine, P is the word project, and these codes are used to enter research catalogs, and there is nothing secret about them. The Ukrainian and US delegations noted that since both migratory birds and bats are sources of various diseases, such research is necessary for disease control and has nothing to do with biological weapons. The Ukrainian delegation also noted that a number of scientific articles related to these studies are actively published in various international journals, and this knowledge is transparent and open to the scientific community. Both Ukraine and the US noted that studies related to bird migration are familiar to the international community and are actively conducted in various countries, including Russia.

In addition to Ukraine, Turkey has also denied the baseless accusations of spreading dangerous diseases by drones. The statement issued by the Turkish delegation after the hearing of the parties notes that the Bayraktars are used only for air strikes and reconnaissance, and they are not equipped for the use of any kind of biological weapons.

In light of Russia’s systematic accusations of US-Ukrainian biosecurity cooperation, an important detail is that the US Department of Defense’s 1991 Joint Threat Reduction Program was created to assist Russia and the rest of the former Soviet republics after the collapse of the USSR to safely neutralize weapons of destruction and strengthen biosecurity resilience in these countries. It should be noted that the Russian Federation itself participated in the BTRP program for 13 years, and within the framework of the program, the US spent more than 100 million dollars to strengthen Russia’s biosecurity.

Assessments of other countries participating in the Geneva Conference

Notably, after listening and discussing the reports of Russia, the US and Ukraine within the framework of the Geneva conference, part of the participating countries, 42 delegations, came out with their respective statements. Some of them took a neutral position and emphasized the need for cooperation and transparency in the field of biosecurity. Russia, Belarus, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe made a joint statement saying that the US should provide more information and that not all questions were answered. A similar statement was made by Iran. As already mentioned, the US accused Russia of distributing the text of the joint statement to the delegations before hearing the report of the US and Ukraine.

It is important that the other participants of the conference, Great Britain, Canada, the European Union, as well as individual members of the European Union, Australia, Japan, and Georgia, assessed Russia’s accusations as groundless and referred to them as part of a disinformation campaign against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war. Germany and Georgia recalled the cases when Russia’s disinformation affected these countries as well, namely the issue of cooperation between Germany and Ukraine in the field of biosecurity and the research center named after Richard Lugar in Georgia, which was and still is a target of a massive Kremlin disinformation campaign.

Notably, the experts from the Great Britain delegation studied the documents presented by Russia and presented their own conclusions at the Geneva conference. The UK statement noted that the storage of dangerous pathogens at the Mechnikov Institute is consistent with scientific and research activities, especially given that diseases caused by these pathogens have been identified in Ukraine. Research on migratory birds and bats is consistent with peaceful scientific activities, and the documents submitted by Russia do not confirm any connection between these studies and the development of biological weapons. The UK statement also noted that Russia presented a letter from the Bayraktar drone manufacturing company to prove the spread of biological agents by drones, which not only does not confirm this allegation, but the letter also states that Bayraktar drones are not equipped to carry biological agents.

Great Britain: “Russia has asked that we take their allegations seriously. It is hard to do so, when their presentation yesterday, delivered by a parade of nameless individuals, contains no more than misrepresentations of assorted public documents quoted incorrectly or out of context, and copy-pasted images from Wikipedia. This is not only an abuse of the time and resources States Parties have devoted to this meeting, in respect for the provisions of the Convention. It is a dangerous attempt to exploit the Convention for aggressive political purposes.”

Since the emergence of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, disinformation regarding the alleged dangerous experiments being conducted in the US-supported biological laboratories in Ukraine has become even more prevalent. For more information on the topic, see our articles:

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Violation: Disinformation

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