How Russia planted a US bioweapons conspiracy theory in Ukraine

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Topline

Russia claimed to have uncovered US-funded biological weapons facilities in Ukraine this week, an allegation without evidence that the US quickly denied and presented as another attempt by the Kremlin to weaponize conspiracy theories to justify its invasion of Ukraine – and a possible precursor to a Russian-sponsored biological or chemical attack.

Highlights

On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announcement— without providing anything independently verified evidence– he had discovered traces of a biological weapons program run by the Ukrainian government and funded by the United States posing as a program of civilian scientific research, a claim immediately fired as misinformation from Ukraine and the United States.

Unsubstantiated claims of “American biolabs in Ukraine” have also been boosted this week by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, as well as Russian and Chinese state media.

The story began circulated weeks ago Twitter and on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars platform, which suggested without evidence that Russia targeted US-run bioweapons labs “in many cities” in Ukraine soon after the outbreak began. Russian invasion.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday called Kremlin claims of a bio-weapons lab are “absurd” and an “obvious ploy” to justify Russian aggression in Ukraine, while Pentagon press secretary John Kirby dismissed the claims as “an pile of malarkey”.

The United States does not develop chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or elsewhere, PSAKI said in a tweetbecause it would violate the International Chemical Weapons Convention, in force since 1993, and the Biological Weapons Convention, in force since 1972 – although the United States has decided unilaterally end its biological weapons programs in 1969.

In 1991, the United States Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program converted former Soviet biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine and elsewhere into US-funded facilities to decommission weapons of mass destruction that might otherwise have been salvaged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – although the Russian of Russia has, since at least 2017, promoted conspiracy theories that these labs are secret US biological weapons factories.

Large number

3,568. That’s the number of mentions of the “US Biological Weapons in Ukraine” media intelligence service Zignal detected on online platforms like alternative social networking service Gab, right-wing conspiratorial media website Big League Politics and Russian social networking service VK from February 24 to March 2, compared to a single mention from February 17 to 23. This dramatic jump in mentions reflects the emergence of a narrative that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is aimed at destroying secret US bioweapons labs.

Chief Spokesperson

Russia’s endorsement of ‘bioterror lab’ conspiracy theories could signal Russia intends to launch a false flag attack in Ukraine using biological weapons, Psaki warned. However, Kirby warned on Wednesday that there was no direct evidence that Russia is moving chemical or biological weapons into Ukraine or currently planning to use them, although he said launching such an operation would be part of the process. from the “Russian textbook”.

Surprising fact

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of assassinations and false flag attacks since coming to power. When he was Russian Prime Minister in 1999, a series of apartment bombings rocked Moscow and other Russian cities, killing hundreds. Although the bombings are believed to be the work of Chechen separatists, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents have been identified planting a bomb-like device in an apartment building in the city of Ryazan, which the FSB later declared was an exercise in testing public vigilance. Former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko claimed the bombings were false flag operations intended to drum up support for a resumption of war in Chechnya. Litvinenko was killed in 2006 in what the European Court of Human Rights determined was a poisoning plot by Russia, and the FSB was also bound to the 2020 non-fatal poisoning of anti-corruption firebrand Alexei Navalny. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the apartment bombings, the assassination of Litvinenko or the poisoning of Navalny.

Key context

Conspiracy narratives have also been used to justify Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine: Putin has repeatedly claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” separated by outside plotters, which Ukrainians are committing a genocide against the Russians and that the invasion of Russia is either a decommunization or a denazification project. In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the White House warned that Russian intelligence might stage a video depicting a fictional Ukrainian attack on Russian civilians, which has yet to happen. The Kremlin has also pushed dubious accounts in Syria, or this claims chemical weapons attacks widely assigned to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad were in fact staged by anti-Assad rebels. US-backed public health labs labeled as “bioterrorism labs” by Russian state-backed media have actually been instrumental in the fight against Covid in some former Soviet states.

Tangent

In addition to “bioterrorist labs,” conspiracy stories on Russian state-backed media sites and platforms like Twitter and Reddit have recently focused on an alleged US-backed coup attempt. in Ukraine, alleged sex trafficking rings linked to the “deep state” in Ukraine, and a supposed plot to conceal Russian humanitarian aid in Ukraine, Zignal Labs said.

Further reading

‘US intelligence says Russia is planning false flag operation to justify invading Ukraine’ (Forbes)

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