How Russia turned America’s helping hand to Ukraine into a vast lie

How Russia turned America’s helping hand to Ukraine into a vast lie

An editorial in the Washington Post says:

Information is the world’s lifeblood. It pulsates in torrents of facts and images. We are swamped with it.

But information can be poison, a dangerous weapon. Disinformation, or organized lying, can be used to wage political warfare. As the historian Thomas Rid wrote in “Active Measures,” his book on the subject, disinformation can weaken a political system that places its trust in truth. “Disinformation operations, in essence, erode the very foundations of open societies,” he wrote.

A disinformation operation now being waged by Russia shows in stark detail how this malevolence works. Taking a program by the United States that was intended to make people healthier and safer in the former Soviet Union, a program it had welcomed and participated in for 22 years, Russia twisted facts into a cloud of falsehoods. The campaign, rooted in decades-old traditions of disinformation by the Kremlin, has intensified during Russia’s ruinous war on Ukraine in the last year.

In a previous editorial in this series, we examined how young people who posted freely on social media have been wrongly arrested and sentenced to years in prison by authoritarian regimes. This editorial looks at disinformation as a tool of dictatorship. Disinformation is not just “fake news” or propaganda but an insidious contamination of the world’s conversations.

And it is exploding.

On Aug. 29, 2005, Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator from Illinois, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, visited a laboratory at Kyiv’s Central Sanitary and Epidemiological Station in Ukraine. This facility was not well secured and, by the nature of its public health work, held dangerous pathogens. Andy Weber, a U.S. Defense Department official, showed Mr. Obama a tray of small vials: samples of Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax. “I saw test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague lying virtually unlocked and unguarded — dangers we were told could only be secured with America’s help,” Mr. Obama recalled.

There was deep concern after 9/11 that terrorists could obtain such materials. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma asked the United States to check the security of his nation’s chemical and biological facilities, and Mr. Weber, who had helped uncover the illegal Soviet biological weapons system, spent two weeks with a small team scrutinizing Ukraine’s facilities in late 2001. The lab in Kyiv that Mr. Obama visited held pathogens that cause not only anthrax but also tularemia, brucellosis, listeriosis, diphtheria, cholera, typhoid and others.

On the day of Mr. Obama’s visit, Ukraine signed an agreement with the United States to upgrade and modernize the labs. For example, cattle in Ukraine occasionally became naturally infected with anthrax and the Ukrainian scientists had been culturing the anthrax bacillus for diagnostic purposes, which meant they kept cultures of it, a potential target for terrorists. The U.S. assistance would help them move toward using safer molecular diagnostic methods, such as polymerase chain reaction and antigen testing. The United States also pledged to improve the locks on the doors and beef up capabilities so they could detect disease outbreaks sooner, as well as spot the cause.

The agreement with Ukraine grew out of the 1992 Nunn-Lugar legislation, sponsored by Mr. Lugar and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) to clean up the Cold War legacy of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union, an effort that became known as Cooperative Threat Reduction. In the 1990s, thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles were liquidated, followed by vast stocks of chemical weapons. Later, the Nunn-Lugar program expanded into reducing biological threats in Russian laboratories, as well as other former Soviet republics. Among other efforts, a public health reference laboratory — named the Lugar Center — was opened in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2011. Pathogens stored in a Soviet-era research institute in the center of Tbilisi were moved to a purpose-built, secure facility.

The Nunn-Lugar program was partially in the U.S. interest. But it was also an act of benevolence. The sole remaining superpower extended a hand to nations that were weak and struggling, providing about $1 billion a year to the former Soviet republics. Since 2005, the U.S. agreement with Ukraine has led to $200 million in aid for 46 biomedical and health facilities. The assistance was not forced on anyone — it was designed to make people safer and healthier. The recipients were eager for it. The aid to Russia was terminated by President Vladimir Putin in 2014 but continued elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

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