Deborah Rosenbaum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, told the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations on April 1 that there are “unequivocally … no offensive biologic weapons in the Ukraine laboratories that the United States has been involved with.”
The Pentagon funds labs in Ukraine through its Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a support agency within the Department of Defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. and Ukrainian officials both say the labs seek to prevent bioweapons and pathogens.
According to a Pentagon fact sheet released in March (pdf), since 2005, the United States has “invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine … supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites.”
The Biological Threat Reduction Program has “improved Ukraine’s biological safety, security, and surveillance for both human and animal health,” according to the fact sheet.
However, Russia has, in recent months, accused the U.S.-funded laboratories in Ukraine of developing biological warfare weapons. Such allegations were being aired on Russian state-run media even before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a March 6 statement on Telegram accusing Ukraine of having destroyed disease-causing pathogens being studied at a lab in Ukraine that the ministry said is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Russia’s allegations regarding the biological laboratories appeared to be repeated by the Chinese regime on March 7.
The World Health Organization stated in March that it advised the Ministry of Health in Ukraine to destroy “high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills.”
But analysts believe that the narrative being pushed by the Kremlin is part of its plan to create a false-flag operation in an attempt to justify using chemical weapons operations in Ukraine itself.
Rosenbaum told officials on April 1 that “the department remains very concerned about the ability to get accurate and transparent information out to the U.S. public, as well as certainly our allies and the rest of the world.”
“So one of the things that the department has been doing—and this is particularly related to the public health laboratories in Ukraine that is being tragically used by the Russians as a potential for a false flag operation—from the White House on down to the Defense Department, as well as Department of State, as well as all of the vehicles that we have to be able to communicate accurate information out about this and the work that has been underway,” she said.
Robert Pope, director of the DTRA’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in February that the labs might contain Soviet-era bioweapons and warned that the conflict in Ukraine could accidentally lead to the release of dangerous disease-causing pathogens.
“I think the Russians know enough about the kinds of pathogens that are stored in biological research laboratories that I don’t think they would deliberately target a laboratory,” Pope said. “But what I do have concerns about is that they would … be accidentally damaged during this Russian invasion.”
Rosenbaum made her comments shortly after White House press secretary Jen Psaki cautioned officials to 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 White House’s concerns also have been repeated by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the UK’s Ministry of Defense, which said last month that it had “seen no evidence to support” the accusations made by Russia.