Pentagon’s work with Ukraine’s biological facilities becomes flashpoint in Russia’s disinformation war

By | March 20, 2022

The Wall Street Journal reports:

On his first official visit abroad, the new senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, was taken to a facility in Ukraine where the U.S. helped scientists working with dangerous biological materials. But rather than produce biological weapons, U.S. officials in that ramshackle building were trying to prevent lethal pathogens from falling into the hands of terrorists.

“I removed a tray of glass vials containing Bacillus anthracis, which is the bacterium that causes the anthrax,” recalls Andrew Weber, the Pentagon official who was in charge of the U.S.-funded program that worked with the Ukrainian government. Mr. Weber said he showed the tray “to a very concerned-looking young senator.”

Mr. Obama himself recalled seeing in his 2005 trip to Ukraine “test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague lying virtually unlocked and unguarded.”

A decades-old Pentagon program that was used to secure biological weapons across the former Soviet Union—and to build trust between Washington and Moscow after the Cold War—has instead become a new flashpoint in an information war between the two countries in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow has accused the Pentagon of funding weapons work in Ukraine’s biological laboratories. “These were not peaceful experiments,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month.

China, whose leader Xi Jinping has cultivated a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has echoed those allegations. “Russia has found during its military operations that the U.S. uses these facilities to conduct bio-military plans,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters.

U.S. officials have flatly denied those claims and warned that Moscow could use its allegations to justify its own use of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.

“We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week. “Manufacturing events and creating false narratives of genocide to justify greater use of military force is a tactic that Russia has used before.”

The allegations have shocked those who are most familiar with the Pentagon’s post-Cold War initiative, called the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. That is because not only has Russia been aware of the Pentagon’s work securing chemical, biological and nuclear facilities across the former Soviet Union, but it had also been its beneficiary for many years.

“They’re outrageous claims,” said Robert Pope, the head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, the arm of the Pentagon in charge of running the program. “We were created 30 years ago to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and Russia knows well we eliminate weapons of mass destruction.”

The program, which dates back to 1991 and continues today, stretches across the former Soviet Union. Since the program started, the Pentagon has spent approximately $12 billion on securing material used in weapons of mass destruction in post-Soviet republics, according to a DTRA spokeswoman. Of those funds, about $200 million has been spent on the biological work in Ukraine since 2005. The funds have supported dozens of labs, health facilities and diagnostic sites around the country, the DTRA spokeswoman said. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email