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There are no U.S.-run biological weapons labs operating in Ukraine.
The U.S. Defense Department and the Ukraine Ministry of Health have had a partnership since 2005 to improve public health laboratories and prevent the threat of outbreaks of infectious diseases.
That effort is part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which began in 1991 to reduce the threat of existing weapons of mass destruction programs in former Soviet Republics.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought false claims on social media that Russian President Vladimir Putin is targeting U.S.-run biological weapons labs in his neighboring country.
False claims from Russia alleging bioweapon use by the U.S. aren’t new, and allegations of a network of such labs along Russia’s border were shared in state-run media in the weeks before the invasion.
A Twitter user by the handle @WarClandestine spread a story on Feb. 24 that Russia was targeting the sites of U.S.-run biolabs when it began invading Ukraine. That account was quickly suspended by Twitter, but others shared the post and began using the hashtag #USbiolabs to spread the false claim.
There are no U.S. military-run labs in Ukraine, said Andy Weber, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors and a former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs.
"Rather, the U.S. Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has provided technical support to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health since 2005 to improve public health laboratories, whose mission is analogous to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Weber told PolitiFact.
"These laboratories have recently played an important role in stopping the spread of COVID-19," he added.
The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program began after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to reduce the threat of existing weapons of mass destruction. It is also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program (named after the senators who passed the Soviet Threat Reduction Act) and is housed within the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation.
False allegations about biolabs, though, are so prevalent that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency released a video on Jan. 11 to counter them and explain what the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program does. In it, Chris Park, a State Department official, spoke at the United Nations to respond to allegations from China and Russia about "suspicious activity" at laboratories in the region. He called the claims "pure disinformation."
Park said the program "works to build capacity around the world to detect, prevent and mitigate infectious disease."
The Biological Threat Reduction Program, according to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, "works with partner countries to counter the threat of outbreaks (intentional, accidental or natural) of the world's most dangerous infectious diseases."
According to the Atlantic Council, a think tank, Russian propagandists have long spread propaganda in Ukraine, including claims that these labs are experimenting on unsuspecting citizens.
Snopes fact-checkers reported that this most recent claim is false.
Similar claims were made against Georgia’s Lugar Center for Public Health Research in 2018, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Last year, Russia and China began spreading the false claim that the U.S. has biolabs along each of their borders, insinuating that America is responsible for unleashing COVID-19, the Daily Beast reported.
"There has been a Soviet-style disinformation campaign promoting such lies for over a decade," Weber said. "It harkens back to the Soviet KGB ‘Operation Infection’ disinformation campaign to spread the total fabrication that HIV/AIDS originated in a U.S. military lab."
A social media user tweeted that Russia was targeting U.S.-run biolabs in its invasion of Ukraine. That account was soon suspended by Twitter.
There are no U.S.-run biolabs in Ukraine. The country is one of many former Soviet Union republics, and other countries, partnering with the Defense Department as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. It’s the latest claim in a series of disinformation efforts by the Russians, an expert told PolitiFact.
While the U.S. may provide funding to upgrade or build labs in other countries, the labs are run by the partnering nations and the program’s goal is to prevent biological threats, not create them. We rate this claim False.
Email exchange with Andy Weber, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors and a former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs.
Snopes, "Ukraine, US Biolabs, and an Ongoing Russian Disinformation Campaign," Feb. 24, 2022
Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, "Fact Sheet: The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program," June 2014
Department of Defense Defense Threat Reduction Agency, "The U.S. Government responds to false allegations targeted at the DoD CTR Program," Jan. 11, 2022
Department of Defense Defense Threat Reduction Agency, "Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Budget Estimates Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide Cooperative Threat Reduction Program," Feb. 2020
United States Embassy in Ukraine, "Biological Threat Reduction Program"
United States Embassy in Ukraine, YouTube, "Biological Threat Reduction Program: Ukraine, Caucasus and Central Asia," Jan. 14, 2020
Chicago Tribune, "U.S., Ukraine sign pact on germ threat," Aug. 30, 2005
State Department, "Agreement between the United States of America and Ukraine," Aug. 29, 2005
U.S. Congress, "Soviet Threat Reduction Act of 1991"
Coda, "Does the US Have A Secret Germ Warfare Lab on Russia’s Doorstep?" April 19, 2018
The Atlantic Council, "Pro-Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine changes tone," June 10, 2021
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "Russian media spreading disinformation about US bioweapons as troops mass near Ukraine," Feb. 8, 2022
The Nonproliferation Review, "False allegations of biological-weapons use from Putin’s Russia," Oct. 12, 2021
Newsweek, "Vladimir Putin's Adviser Says U.S. Is Developing Biological Weapons Near Russia," April 4, 2021
Daily Beast, "Russia, China Team Up to Peddle Insane U.S. COVID Lab Theory," April 9, 2021
Military Health System, "Biological Threat Reduction Program"
Kyiv Post, "SBU: No US biological laboratories in Ukraine," May 8, 2020
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