As Vladimir Putin’s bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine approaches its fourth week, a new variable has complicated the crisis: bioweapons. Russian propagandists have alleged that Ukraine coordinated with the United States to “develop ethnically targeted biological weapons” — whatever that means — near the Russian border. Chinese propagandists amplified the Russian claims, alleging that the United States secretly controls 336 biological research laboratories in 30 countries around the world. The United States, for our part, has dismissed the allegations as “malarkey” and “disinformation.” But now it seems our own propagandists have played just as fast and loose with the facts as have our enemies overseas.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has long denied the existence of the labs. The Kyiv Post reported one such denial over two years ago. “Recently, ‘fake news’ about the alleged activities of American military biological laboratories in Ukraine has been spread in the media and social networks,” the SBU complained. “No foreign biological laboratories operate in Ukraine. Statements recently made by individual politicians are not true and are a deliberate distortion of the facts.” The left-wing “fact-checking” website Politifact similarly concluded, “There are no US-run biolabs in Ukraine, contrary to social media posts.” But while there may not be any “foreign” or “US-run” laboratories on Ukrainian soil, “U.S.-funded” labs do in fact exist, as the State Department admitted last week.
During Senate testimony on March 8, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland acknowledged, “Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we’re now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of, so we are working with the Ukrainians on how we can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.”
Another left-wing “fact-checking” website, Snopes, offered more details. “The rumors are a distortion of the fact that the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the Department of Defense of the United States of America entered into an agreement in 2005,” Snopes explained, to “stem the threat of bio-terrorism by placing safeguards on deadly pathogens dating from a Soviet-era biological weapons program.” Snopes then linked to a video produced by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv defending the research program and directing viewers to learn more at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) website, dtra.mil.
Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, citing talking-points handed to her by the Pentagon, assured television viewers that the bioresearch partnership was nothing more than an “effort to try to clean up these Soviet-era labs and make sure that nothing escapes from those labs.” But this “fact-check” raised more questions than answers. For starters, the Soviet Union collapsed 31 years ago. The United States waited 14 years to launch this partnership in 2005, but even so, it has now been in operation for 17 years. How long does it take to “clean up” a Soviet bioweapons lab? If the United States has successfully converted the labs from their focus on bioweapons research to more mundane (and legal) scientific endeavors, then why is the American military still running the running and funding the program? If the research presently taking place in the labs is innocuous, why should we worry if it falls into Russian hands?
CBS News reporter David Martin conveyed the Pentagon’s fears on Sunday. “The concern is that the Russians will seize one of these biomedical research facilities that Ukraine has where they do research on deadly pathogens like botulism and anthrax, seize one of those facilities, weaponize the pathogen, and then blame it on Ukraine and the U.S.,” he explained, “because the U.S. has been providing support for some of the research being done in those facilities.” In other words, the Pentagon now contends that the very same pathogens that are not bioweapons in the hands of Americans and Ukrainians will become bioweapons in the hands of the Russians. Perhaps our increasingly woke military will dub the microbes “weapon-fluid” or “trans-tactical.”
This postmodern definition strains credulity to its breaking point. Either the labs contain bioweapons — i.e., dangerous pathogens that can be “weaponized” — or they do not. Mealy-mouthed sophists who distinguish between bioweapons and potential bioweapons draw a distinction without any practical difference. The Pentagon admits as much. Robert Pope, a director for the DTRA, insisted to New York Times that “there is no place that still has any of the sort of infrastructure for researching or producing biological weapons.” But in the same interview he conceded, “Scientists being scientists, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these strain collections in some of these laboratories still have pathogen strains that go all the way back to the origins of that [Soviet bioweapons] program.”
When former congressman Tulsi Gabbard published a video acknowledging the existence of the U.S.-funded biolabs and calling for their closure, Mitt Romney accused her of “parroting false Russian propaganda” and warned that “her treasonous lies may well cost lives.” Romney did not cite any evidence for his defamatory claims because none exists. Romney is right that propaganda can prove deadly. That includes our own. Biological weapons — potential or otherwise — exist in Ukraine. The war in that country is much more dangerous as a result, and it will take more than flimsy propaganda to mitigate the risk.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.