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Pentagon funding biolabs in Ukraine – ‘real concern’ of pathogen releases if Russia attacks

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. (Dreamstime/TNS)
March 14, 2022

The Department of Defense released a fact sheet on Friday detailing a program it has funded from 2005 “through the present day” in Ukraine which gives money to biological laboratories.

The DoD fact-sheet detailed the program known as the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP), which is a subordinate program of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program aimed at reducing the threat of pathogens. The fact sheet further said Ukraine has taken steps to secure biological samples, to prevent the “real concern” that dangerous pathogens could be released amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country.

The fact sheet stated BTRP has “invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine since 2005, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites.” The fact-sheet also said CTR “began its biological work with Ukraine to reduce the risk posed by the former Soviet Union’s illegal biological weapons program, which left Soviet successor states with unsecured biological materials after the fall of the USSR.”

The fact-sheet states since 2005, the DoD program has worked with the Government of Ukraine to reduce the threats posed by pathogens, including by disposing of biological weapons materials left behind by the Soviet Union, the predecessor of the modern Russian Federation.

“After Russia launched its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health responsibly ordered the safe and secure disposal of samples,” the fact-sheet states. “These actions 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.”

“Proper disposal of samples during a war reflects responsible conduct on the part of the Ukrainians to protect the Ukrainian people and the international community from potential accidental exposure due to irresponsible Russian actions,” the fact-sheet adds.

The DoD noted Russia already “illegally took possession” of two Ukrainian-owned laboratories that BTRP supported in 2014.

The DoD further warned, “Russia propagates disinformation aimed at BTRP’s laboratory and capacity building efforts in former Soviet Union countries—falsely claiming that the U.S. Department of Defense support is used to develop biological weapons.”

Some U.S. fact-checking resources have already issued warnings about claims about biological research facilities in Ukraine. PolitiFact fact-checked a claim that “Russia is targeting U.S. biological weapons labs in Ukraine invasion” as “False.” In that fact-check, PolitiFact noted the U.S. Department of Defense does provide funding to Ukraine through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to help reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction left in the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Last week, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affair spokesperson Lijian Zhao also claimed the U.S. “has 26 bio-labs and other related facilities in Ukraine, over which the U.S. Department of Defense has absolute control.” Zhao further claimed, “All dangerous pathogens in Ukraine must be stored in these labs and all research activities are led by the U.S. side.”

The fact-checking outlet Lead Stories issued their own fact-check on a claim that referenced Zhao’s comments and went on to claim Russia “found over 30 biological labs (with evidence of bioweapons) in Ukraine formed by the Pentagon.” Lead Stories said many biological labs in Ukraine were established to decommission Soviet-era biological weapons. Lead Stories wrote the Russian government did not “find” these labs during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, but instead already knew about them “as they were formerly part of the USSR’s” bioweapons program.