WHAT KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS SAY:
One longstanding pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative which continues to be promoted is the notion that there are ‘Biolabs in Ukraine’. Pro-Kremlin media outlets claim that there are ‘dozens’ of Biolabs operating in Ukraine. They claim the purpose of these operations is to develop unknown pathogens and potentially create a bioweapon. Russia claims that there is no transparency about the work that is taking place in these laboratories and that they are funded by the US.
Since the 2022 invasion, this narrative has intensified, with Russia claiming to have uncovered ‘secret documents’ from laboratories in occupied regions, relating to the ongoing research. In October 2022 Russia called for a UN investigation into the situation - asserting that Ukraine is using the laboratories to prepare a biological weapon.
This narrative is linked with other popular themes in pro-Kremlin rhetoric, including ‘Ukraine is preparing a dirty bomb’ and ‘the war is a proxy war between Russia and the US.’
WHAT ARE THE FACTS:
The ‘Biolabs’ conspiracy is a part of the Kremlin’s broader, long-lasting disinformation campaign to discredit the US in the eyes of Putin’s pro-Western neighbours such as Georgia and Ukraine.
The development of biological weapons is strictly prohibited under international law, through The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, of which Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU are all signatories. Whilst there are several research laboratories in Ukraine, there is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine has conducted any research which would be in breach of this convention. Ukraine has the right to conduct biological research for peaceful purposes, including for public health. By equating any biological research to biological weapons, Kremlin propagandists attempt to sow confusion over the legitimacy and purposes of these centres.
Manufactured events such as calling for a UN investigation in October 2022 and the recent discovery of ‘secret documents’ are part of a familiar strategy adopted by the Kremlin to push the disinformation narrative onto the international stage. The investigation was rejected by the UN on the grounds of insufficient evidence. A group of Russian biologists who examined the ‘evidence’ that Russia presented stated that it did “not imply any development of biological weapons or even the use of particularly dangerous pathogens in the laboratories.
A core component of this conspiracy is the notion that laboratories in Ukraine are owned or funded by the US. In reality, the US does not own any laboratories in Ukraine. Under Article X of The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the US, EU and any other signatory have the right and, in some cases, obligation to contribute to international research programmes, such as those which operate in Ukraine.
Kremlin propagandists use the distrust of the US which they have relentlessly attempted to cultivate among domestic audiences in recent years, to make the operations taking place in Ukraine appear malign. This narrative is linked to the notion that ‘the war is a proxy war between Russia and the US’. Ultimately, this disinformation narrative is designed to justify the invasion and create fear of Ukraine, as well as of the potential for the war to escalate, in a domestic audience.
Debunker is a series of disinformation-busting articles from Debunk.org which focus on dispelling the harmful lies and propaganda being pushed by pro-Kremlin sources. Check out the rest of the series at debunk.org/debunker.