Fact check: Is Russia's claim of US-owned biowarfare labs in Ukraine true?

The U.S. government calls Russian claims "laughable".
Ameya Paleja
A laboratory that handles infectious agents.luchschen/iStock

The U.S. government rejected claims made in Russian media that the former was operating biowarfare labs in Ukraine, Reuters reported. It countered the Russian claim with an accusation that it was Russian which was more likely to use a chemical or biological weapon. 

While it is true that the U.S. funds programs in Ukraine that involve laboratories that deal with organisms that can be quite harmful to human health, the ultimate aim of these programs isn't to weaponize these organisms but to study them and prepare for an outbreak. Apart from Ukraine, the U.S. program also supports similar laboratories in Georgia that saw an outbreak of a mysterious disease in 2018.

The Russian claim

The allegations of the U.S.-funded biowarfare surfaced again at the beginning of the Ukrainian invasion last month and have been amplified further over the next few days. Most recently, a Russian Ministry of Defence spokesperson claimed that the U.S. was training infected birds to fly from Ukraine into Russia, The Drive reported.

Earlier on Wednesday this week, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova said that Russia had obtained documents that showed that the Ukrainian Ministry of Health had ordered the destruction of biological samples of plague, cholera, anthrax, and other pathogens, shortly before Russian troops moved into Ukrainian territory.

Without giving further details on the documents, Zakharova said that Ukraine's actions were an emergency attempt to erase evidence of biological military programs funded by the Pentagon, Reuters reported.

Biological threat reduction program

A former U.S. official told Reuters that Washington has helped Ukraine convert laboratories used to develop biological weapons by the former USSR into facilities for public health research. Apart from the U.S., the European Union, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), has financially supported these facilities that study diseases that are dangerous to humans as well as animals.

When a similar allegation had surfaced in 2020, the U.S. embassy had stated that the U.S. involvement was to make sure that these contagious agents do not fall into wrong hands. To ensure this, the Pentagon runs the Biological Threat Reduction Program in association with the Ukrainian government, Reuters said in its report.

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White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki said on Twitter,

Pentagon spokesperson, John Kirby called the allegations, 'laughable' and 'Russian propaganda' while warning that Russia may be laying the groundwork for using its own chemical or biological weapon in the near future.