Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed on March 8 that Ukraine has been “concealing traces of a military biological program” supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We can conclude that components of biological weapons were being developed in Ukrainian laboratories in direct proximity to Russian territory,” Zakharova said. A tweet from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with this information has received thousands of likes and retweets.
Other Twitter users have also claimed that Ukraine is “working on biological weapons near Russian borders” in labs funded by the United States. A VERIFY viewer texted the team with questions about these claims.
Is the United States funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine?
No, the United States is not funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine. A United Nations treaty bars the U.S. from developing chemical weapons anywhere, and there’s no evidence biological weapons labs exist at all in Ukraine.
WHAT WE FOUND
During a press conference on March 9, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby responded to questions about biological weapons labs in Ukraine.
“We are not developing biological or chemical weapons inside Ukraine. It's not happening,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said Russia’s claims about “alleged U.S. biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine” are false.
“This is preposterous. It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent,” Psaki said in a tweet on March 9.
“The United States is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention and does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere,” she added.
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is a United Nations treaty that “effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.” It was the first disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, the UN says.
In addition, there’s no evidence there are biological weapons laboratories anywhere in Ukraine.
“We are not aware of any programs in Ukrainian laboratories that are not in line with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC),” Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Union, told VERIFY.
Russian disinformation “has a track record of promoting manipulative narratives about biological weapons and alleged ‘secret labs,’ which have been debunked numerous times,” Stano added.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) also asserts that it is not operating bioweapon labs in Ukraine or anywhere else. Since 2005, the DOD has partnered with Ukraine’s government to support “peaceful and safe biological detection and diagnostic capabilities, and to reduce the threat posed by pathogens” through its Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP).
According to a fact sheet provided by the DOD, the U.S. has invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine through BTRP, “supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities and diagnostic sites.” BTRP partners with the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health institutions.
The DOD clarified that the laboratories in Ukraine are owned and operated by the country’s government – not the United States. There are five biological research laboratories in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with work focused on “diagnostics, therapeutics, treatments, prevention and vaccines,” the DOD said. These labs do not make weapons.
In an email, the WHO told VERIFY it has recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine “and other responsible bodies” to destroy “high-threat pathogens” since the safety and security of the country’s labs might be compromised. Public health laboratories handle a range of infectious agents in order to detect and respond to diseases like COVID-19, polio, measles and others.
“After Russia launched its unlawful invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health responsibly ordered the safe and secure disposal of samples,” the DOD said. “These actions limit the danger of an accidental release of pathogens should Russia’s military attack laboratories, a real concern since they have attacked Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and research facilities.”