MYTH: The U.S. has a network of bioweapons labs in Eastern Europe
THE FACTS: On Feb. 24, 2022, a thread by the Twitter account @WarClandestine suggesting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was actually targeting U.S. bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine was widely shared on social media using the hashtag #USBiolabs. The thread cited claims by Russian officials that the U.S. maintains a network of bioweapons labs near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe. Russian state-owned media outlets have been making similar claims since at least 2016.
These claims are typically based on a misrepresentation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, which collaborates with partner countries to reduce the threat of outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases by helping partners to secure dangerous pathogens and to quickly detect outbreaks, according to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s website. The U.S. has been providing aid to Ukrainian laboratories since 2005, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and U.S. Department of Defense signed an agreement intended to limit the threat of bioterrorism by implementing safeguards on deadly pathogens from Soviet-era biological weapons programs. The Biological Threat Reduction Program has since helped to construct and modernize Ukrainian laboratories. The labs themselves are run and primarily financed by the Ukrainian government. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) noted in response to claims about the presence of U.S. military biological laboratories in a May 2020 statement that “no foreign biological laboratories operate in Ukraine.”
QAnon Embraces Russia Conspiracy Theories on Ukraine Labs
By Jon Jackson On 3/10/22 at 11:53 AM EST
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday denied accusations from Russia that the U.S. had bioweapons labs in Ukraine, but QAnon conspiracy theorists have already widely spread Russia’s claims throughout its communications channels.
Evidence also shows many members of QAnon believe a “baseless” theory that the Russian war is actually a secret mission backed by former President Donald Trump to destroy clandestine bioweapon labs created by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden. NBC reported on March 4 that the theory was being spread during the American offshoot of the “Freedom Convoy” of protesting truckers in Washington, D.C., by members of QAnon. Along with groundless claims that Fauci is trying to create a pathogen for a new pandemic, the conspiracists also falsely state he created the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price on the same day accused the Kremlin of spreading misinformation regarding “outright lies that the United States and Ukraine are conducting chemical and biological weapons activities in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Russia state media has spread claims about the presence of labs, as have members of QAnon on unregulated platforms like Telegram and 8chan.
Foreign Policy reported on March 2 that believers of QAnon are widely spreading the conspiracy theory that Russia is targeting labs in Ukraine to stop Fauci from creating a new virus similar to COVID-19. According to the magazine, messages about the theory have hundreds of thousands of hits each day on the platforms.
Russian officials are feeding the false narrative. On Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Moscow possessed documents that proved the Ukrainian health ministry had ordered the destruction of pathogen samples before Russian military forces moved into Ukraine.
On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry released information to the public on social media. It claims the U.S. and Ukraine are conspiring to spread diseases through migratory birds.
U.S. officials have shot down the stories, including White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“We took note of Russia’s false claims about alleged U.S. biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine,” Psaki said on Twitter.
In another tweet, Psaki added: “This is preposterous. It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.”
Unproven claims of US-funded Ukraine bioweapons labs spread online
Published on Thursday 03 March 2022 at 02:57 Updated on Thursday 03 March 2022 at 06:17
Online articles and social media posts claim US-funded labs in Ukraine are developing biological warfare weapons, saying this is part of the justification for the Russian attack on its eastern European neighbor. But former US officials and non-proliferation experts say the labs are working to detect and prevent the spread of bioweapons, and have also helped in containing disease outbreaks.
“Bioweapons laboratories in Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, and the capital Kyiv, among others locations, have been targeted by Russian troops operating under Putin’s direct orders,” says an online article dated February 26, 2022.
Similar posts appeared on Twitter and on Facebook. One post on the latter site said: “Someone send PUTIN a thank you card. These labs were funded by the USA folks. The most dangerous bioweapons were in those labs.” A separate one claimed that the labs “were making injectable bioweapons.”
The US government as well as former officials and non-proliferation experts say the claims appear to be based on long-running Russian disinformation efforts and that Washington has for decades been working to prevent the use of bioweapons.
A US embassy statement from April 2020 took aim at what it called “Russian disinformation regarding the strong US-Ukrainian partnership to reduce biological threats.”
False Claims of U.S. Biowarfare Labs in Ukraine Grip QAnon
The conspiracy theory has been boosted by Russian and Chinese media and diplomats.
By Justin Ling, a journalist based in Toronto.
March 2, 2022, 1:50 PM
Pro-Russian channels and QAnon conspiracy theorists think Moscow is launching airstrikes on Ukraine to destroy bioweapon-manufacturing labs in order to prevent the American infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci from creating a sequel to the COVID-19 virus.
This theory hangs on the entirely discredited idea that the coronavirus was designed as a bioweapon, perhaps by the U.S. government itself. And yet, the theory is being shared thousands of times, faster than regulated social media networks can yank the conspiracy theory down. On unregulated platforms, such as Telegram and 8chan, the conspiracy theory has become incredibly popular, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits each day.
The theory is now being actively contributed to, and promoted, by one Russian embassy, an official Russian state propaganda outlet, and media channels in Serbia and China.
The Russian government has laid the groundwork for this conspiracy for some time. In January, a Russian-language Telegram account warned that a “full-fledged network of biological laboratories has been deployed,” studying deadly viruses that are already making people sick in Kazakhstan with “American grants.” The Russian newspaper Izvestia ran a story in May 2020 making similar claims, and they have been repeated in pro-Russian Ukrainian news sites. A close advisor of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has accused the United States of developing “more and more biological laboratories … mainly by the Russian and Chinese borders.”
The conspiracy has received past support in Chinese propaganda, after Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said last May, in response to claims in Australian media about China’s own supposed biowarfare programs, that the United States had been secretly working on biolabs and had 16 in Ukraine alone. Chinese state media has repeatedly spread the false claim that the coronavirus originated from the U.S. Army base at Fort Detrick. The conspiracy theory even pushed the Security Service of Ukraine to debunk the allegation of American-run bioweapons facilities in 2020.