US denies Russian claims of biowarfare labs in Ukraine

White House spokeswoman also warns that Russia may seek to use chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine.

U.S. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2022.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called Russia's claims 'false' and 'preposterous' [Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters]

The United States has denied Russian claims that Washington is operating biowarfare laboratories in Ukraine, calling the allegations “preposterous” and warning that Moscow might seek to use chemical or biological weapons during its ongoing offensive on its neighbouring country.

The US denial on Wednesday came hours after Russia renewed its accusations that Washington was working with Kyiv to develop biological weapons in the vicinity of the Ukraine-Russia border.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, called the Russian claim “preposterous” in a series of posts on Twitter and said it was Moscow “that has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons”.

These included the “attempted assassinations and poisoning of” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political enemies like the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, she said.

Now that Russia has made these claims, she added, “We should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.”

The US Department of State and the Pentagon also denounced the Russian claims.

In a statement, Ned Price, spokesperson for the Department of State, accused Russia of “inventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine” and said Washington was “in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere”.

John Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson, called the Russian accusations “absurd”, “laughable”, and a “bunch of malarkey”.

“There’s nothing to it. It’s classic Russian propaganda,” he told reporters.

The US officials also accused China of “echoing” Moscow’s “conspiracy theories”.

‘Erase evidence’

Ukraine has also rejected the Russian claims, with a spokesperson for President Volodymyr Zelenskky saying Kyiv “strictly denies any such allegation”.

There was no immediate response from Moscow.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry had called on Washington to reveal information about what she called its illegal activities in Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova said Russia had documents showing the Ukrainian health ministry had ordered the destruction of samples of plague, cholera, anthrax and other pathogens before February 24, when Russian forces moved into Ukraine.

Zakharova said the documents unearthed by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programmes” financed by the Pentagon.

“It can be concluded that components of biological weapons were being developed in Ukrainian biolabs located in close vicinity of our border,” she said. “The emergency destruction of dangerous pathogens on February 24 was a necessary step aimed at concealing the fact that Ukraine and the US had violated Article 1 of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.”

She provided no further details on the documents.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry meanwhile on Tuesday said the “US has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine alone”. It also called on the US to “give a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad and subject itself to multilateral verification”.

When asked about the Russian and Chinese claims, a spokesperson for the United Nations said the global body has “no information to confirm” reports “about these kinds of labs”.

“Our colleagues at the World Health Organization who have been working with the Ukrainian Governments said they are unaware of any activity on the part of the Ukrainian Government, which is inconsistent with its international treaty obligations, including on chemical weapons or biological weapons,” said Stephane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson.

Ukraine has previously said it, like many other countries, has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans.

Those laboratories have received support from the US, European Union and the World Health Organization, while the Pentagon’s Biological Threat Reduction Program has also been working with the Ukrainian government to ensure the security of pathogens and toxins stored in the laboratories.

A former US official, who is familiar with the cooperation between Kyiv and Washington, told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the US had helped to convert several Ukrainian laboratories that had been involved in the former Soviet Union’s biological weapons programme into public health facilities.

Separately on Tuesday, Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs of the US, told a congressional hearing that Ukraine has biological research facilities and that she was “quite concerned that Russian troops may be seeking to gain control of those labs”.

“So we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of the Russian forces,” she added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies