Russia’s recent disclosure about the U.S.-funded biolabs in Ukraine has sent jitters around the globe.
Besides Ukraine, the United States has been funding secret biolabs in many countries around the world. The truth behind these biolabs and the risks of leakage of some dangerous pathogens have sparked serious concern in the international community.
The Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, according to a fact sheet of the defense ministry published on March 11. Since 2005, when the BTRP has partnered with the government of Ukraine, the United States has invested approximately 200 million U.S. dollars in Ukraine, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities and diagnostic sites. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that in addition to over 30 biolabs in Ukraine, the United States has created “hundreds of such laboratories” in other countries.
According to publicly available data, 336 laboratories in about 30 countries receive funding from the BTRP. The research work conducted by these defense ministry-funded biolabs is highly classified. Although U.S. officials have dismissed the questions about these biolabs as “disinformation” and “conspiracy theories,” there have been calls for Washington to comply with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and make clarifications on related issues. In face of the documents, pictures and objects discovered by Russia in Ukraine, the United States should make related information public, fully explain its biological research at home and abroad, and accept multilateral verification.
Alastair Hay, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds in Britain, said: “the United States has been supporting various laboratories in the Ukraine through a post-Cold War program. As I understand it, these labs are generally involved in disease surveillance.” “It is unclear why the United States needs to support this work and why, for example, it is not happening under WHO guidance,” said the professor.
The United States claimed that it has funded biolabs in other countries to “contain biological threats.” And yet these labs turn out to be have been designed to store and deal with dangerous pathogens and toxins. Take Ukraine. A 2012 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said that some Ukrainian labs have been upgraded to the level needed to handle some of the more dangerous pathogens such as anthrax. Some media reports noted that the U.S.-funded biolabs in Ukraine were set up to create a mechanism for the covert spread of lethal pathogens, which has raised fresh disquietude about potential pathogen leakage. Why did the United States choose to fund biolabs in Ukraine, which is not a rich country in Europe and does not excel in biomedical research?
While explaining the history of the U.S. biolab program in Ukraine to The American Conservative, Jonathan Askonas, an assistant professor of politics at the Catholic University of America, said the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) increased its activities in peripheral countries of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine was particularly attractive as it has a lot of skilled STEM workers and had a U.S.-friendly government. The U.S.-linked labs in Ukraine are not bioweapons facilities, Robert Pope, director of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known as the updated Nunn-Lugar program, was quoted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as saying. The current Ukraine-Russia conflict may put at risk a network of the labs that work with dangerous pathogens.
Former Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard has been condemned as a “traitor” for tweeting that more than 25 “U.S.-funded bio labs” in Ukraine which, if breached, would release and spread “deadly pathogens”. She called for a ceasefire “now around these labs until they’re secured and pathogens destroyed.” On Thursday, the World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens stored in the country’s labs to prevent “any potential spills.”
Halfhearted US media
In disregard of the worldwide concern over the U.S.-funded overseas biological laboratories, the U.S. mainstream news outlets, which always flaunt the so-called “freedom of the press,” have kept silent and just parroted what the U.S. government has said without any verification. “What is in those Ukrainian biological labs that make them so worrisome and dangerous?” independent journalist Glenn Greenwald queried in an article published on March 9, one day after U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland admitted that “Ukraine has biological research facilities” when testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “If these labs are merely designed to find a cure for cancer or create safety measures against pathogens, why, in Nuland’s mind, would it have anything to do with a biological and chemical weapons program in Ukraine?” he asked.
The United States has been working with Ukraine to “eliminate biological weapons” left behind by the Soviet Union since 2005, but over the past 17 years, “the Pentagon has not finished removing test tubes from Soviet era freezers,” said FOX news anchor Tucker Carlson. “How does that work exactly? How heavy are these bio weapons? When was the Pentagon planning to finish this important job?” Carlson asked. “Those all seem like very obvious questions, but not a single (U.S.) reporter asked any of those questions.” “Instead of government and media actors leveling with the American people about a complex reality, they engaged in a shameful and self-defeating coverup under the guise of ‘fighting misinformation.'” noted Askonas.