US has no knowledge of activities at Ukrainian biolabs once seized by Russia: Officials
| March 16, 2022 11:18 AM
Two of the more than 40 biological research facilities in Ukraine have been under Russian control for roughly eight years, and the United States has no idea what is going on inside them, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. has since 2005 worked with Ukrainian officials on how to implement additional safety procedures in all of these biolabs, which had been used for the former Soviet Union’s illegal biological weapons program. Washington is now concerned that Russian forces could target any of the other 44 laboratories that remain under Ukrainian control.
“Russia illegally took possession of two Ukrainian-owned laboratories that [the Biological Threat Reduction Program] upgraded in 2014 and continues to deny Ukrainian access to these facilities,” the Department of Defense said in a fact-sheet regarding these facilities published last Friday.
These two labs, one of which is located in Simferopol, the second-largest city on the Crimean Peninsula, and the other in the Donbas, a contested region with a heavy presence of pro-Russian separatists that fell under Russian control during the military conquest in 2014, defense officials told the Washington Examiner onWednesday.
“Neither the United States or the sovereign Government of Ukraine has any knowledge and/or cognizance about the status of or activities conducted in the labs mentioned in the first question,” an official said. “There is no confirmed information about any of the remaining facilities being seized as of this date.”
The Department of Defense said in the fact sheet that the Ukrainian Ministry of Health ordered the secure disposal of samples and other actions that would “limit the danger of an accidental release of pathogens should Russia’s military attack laboratories, a real concern since they have attacked Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and research facilities.”
These Ukrainian laboratories have gained outsize significance recently amid a Russian disinformation campaign that the U.S. is working with Ukraine to develop biological weapons, which the Biden administration has forcefully denied. China has parroted this talking point, which the U.S. has rejected for years.
“The Russian accusations are absurd. They are laughable, and, you know, in the words of my Irish Catholic grandfather, a bunch of malarkey. There’s nothing to it. It’s classic Russian propaganda,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby last week. “We are not developing biological or chemical weapons inside Ukraine. It’s not happening.”
A senior defense official told reporters last week that the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which is the agency within DOD that is working with Ukrainians on these labs, “trains partner nation laboratory technician” and has “never supported the permanent presence of any personnel in an overseas laboratory.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed last week that “evidence of the Kyiv regime’s hasty measures to conceal any traces of the military biological program finance by the U.S. Department of Defense in Ukraine has been revealed,” while the Chinese Foreign Ministry alleged days later that the U.S. “has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine alone” and that “it should give a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad.”