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The United States has apparently been funding research into deadly pathogens at biological institutes in Ukraine, according to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and substantiated in a 2005 report by the Arms Control Association.

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That’s not the same as funding a “bioweapons” lab, but such technology can of course also be used for many other purposes.

Nuland Avoids Question on Bioweapons
In a hearing Tuesday held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Under-Secretary of State for Ukraine Victoria Nuland equivocated in her answer to a question by Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio about whether Ukraine has chemical or biological weapons.

“Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops – Russian forces – may be seeking to gain control of, so we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach,” Nuland replied.

Nuland did not say they were “secret biolabs” nor did she say they were devoted to biological weapons, as claimed by Russia and now alleged as well by Carlson.

“From your answer, Victoria Nuland, we would assume – because you all but said it – that there is a military application to this research, that they’re working on bioweapons. Again, your answer suggests that. Why would we fund something like that in Ukraine?” Carlson said.

The question – albeit not necessarily the allegation – is a legitimate one. Research on anthrax and other deadly pathogens has been carried out in the United States under super-secure conditions for decades. Why fund similar research at multiple facilities in Ukraine?

If true, Carlson goes on, “Why didn’t you secure the contents of these biolabs before the Russians arrived, as you knew they would?”

Russia Alleges US ‘Military Biological Program’ in Ukraine
Russia, as well as China, have been ramping up efforts to accuse the US of funding biological weapons research in Ukraine, as reported in USA Today the day after the start of Russia’s invasion, in an article geared to debunk those efforts.

This past Sunday, Russia’s military said in a statement, “During the course of the special military operation facts were uncovered that the Kiev regime was mopping up traces of a military biological program under development in Ukraine financed by the US defense ministry.”

A spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry likewise claimed separately the Ukrainians are working on deadly pathogens, including plague and anthrax, Carlson noted.

Truth and Lies
That much is true – documented as far back as 2010 by a statement on the website of the US Department of Defense. “US Sen. Dick Lugar applauded the opening of the Interim Central Reference Laboratory in Odessa, Ukraine, this week, announcing that it will be instrumental in researching dangerous pathogens used by bioterrorists,” the Defense Department said at the time.

“The level-3 bio-safety lab … will be used to study anthrax, tularemia and Q fever as well as other dangerous pathogens.”

That does not, however, constitute evidence that the US Department of Defense is funding a military biological program in Ukraine, although one might wonder why such a statement was posted to the Defense Department website, if there were no military connection to the labs.

In an effort to discredit the Kremlin, European Union foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano — quoted by Carlson — pointed out “The credibility of information provided by the Kremlin is in general very doubtful and low. . . Russian disinformation has a track record of promoting manipulative narratives about biological weapons and alleged ‘secret labs’. . .”

It is true the Kremlin twists the truth at best, particularly in wartime: Russia has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that its forces are not targeting civilians in Ukraine, even with myriad videos and photographs proving otherwise.

US Defense Links to Ukrainian Biolabs?
The question remains, what was the purpose of the biological research labs in Ukraine, and is there any relationship between the Pentagon and those labs?

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby interrupted a reporter who asked precisely that question, emphatically insisting, “We are not – not – developing biological or chemical weapons inside Ukraine. It’s not happening.”

But in doing so, Kirby skillfully ducked the question as to whether the US military has any connection to those labs and if so, what the nature of the relationship is.

The Pentagon spokesperson also said nothing about whether the Ukrainians themselves might or might not be developing such weapons.

The State Department categorically denied any US military connection to the labs, and denied the facilities were aimed at biological weapons development.

In a statement to Fox News, State said “The US Department of Defense does not own or operate biological laboratories in Ukraine. Under Secretary Nuland was referring to Ukrainian diagnostic and biodefense laboratories during her testimony, which are not biological weapons facilities. These institutions counter biological threats throughout the country.”

Proof the US is Funding the Labs
Under the Nunn-Lugal Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, the US signed a funding agreement in August 2005 with Ukraine to “improve security for pathogens stored at biological research and health facilities in the former Soviet republic.” The agreement funds projects to secure the pathogen strains and “sensitive biological knowledge” within Ukraine.

Under the agreement, the US pledged to work to “improve Ukrainian capabilities to detect, diagnose and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases, as well as determine whether outbreaks are natural or the result of bioterrorism.”

A spokesperson for then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar (R-IN) said at the time that the anti-plague facilities “were threats, and they are threats” because poor security at the labs could allow terrorist access to the pathogens and could also result in the “unintentional leakage” of pathogens from the facilities.

Could this be another Wuhan?

US Insists Labs are Defensive
Funding was also allocated to employ scientists “whose skills and financial insecurity could render them potential targets for states or independent groups looking to acquire bioweapons capabilities,” according to the Arms Control Association, a US-based nonpartisan membership organization that promotes “public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.”

Paying scientists to prevent them from being flipped by foreign actors to provide bioweapons information certainly supports the theory that the pathogens being researched could also be used as biological weapons.

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, minimized the issue in a statement saying the 2005 agreement was intended to “improve public health laboratories, whose mission is analogous to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

A statement by the US Embassy in Ukraine likewise emphasized the labs were defensive in nature.

“The Biological Threat Reduction Program’s priorities in Ukraine are to consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern and to continue to ensure Ukraine can detect and report outbreaks caused by dangerous pathogens before they pose security or stability threats.”

In its archive, the embassy lists fact sheets on bio labs in Kherson, Levov, Odessa, Ternopil and Zakarpartska.

The US Embassy said in one of those fact sheets that it had activated a Pathogen Asset Control System at the Odessa Interim Central Reference Laboratory of the Especially Dangerous Pathogens (ICRL) located at the Ukrainian Research Anti-Plague Institute (URAPI, which it said was used to maintain inventory support of the “especially dangerous pathogens’ consolidation” at the facility.

It is still not clear, however how secure those pathogens really are.

The Risk from Russian Forces
If these labs are civilian facilities, not secret and purely defensive in nature, then, why are multiple American media outlets scrambling to insist there are “no US-run biolabs in Ukraine,” as the Politifact fact-checking website claimed in its report last month?

The concern stems from reports that Russia is targeting alleged “US biological weapons labs” in its war on Ukraine. Those tweets were suspended by Twitter, but others have appeared since.

“While the US 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,” Politifact stated.

The truth is, this is a very complicated issue and the claim of potential military application in these research facilities is not entirely false. The US is indeed funding those labs. Their purpose, and the security of the deadly pathogens they contain, remains to be seen.

Given the current situation with the two Ukrainian nuclear power plants already seized by Russian forces – including the largest such plant in Europe, the security of the biological research labs in Ukraine is indeed a serious concern.

“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,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned Wednesday. “It’s a clear pattern.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.