Victoria Nuland is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. She confirmed the existence of biological research facilities in Ukraine. She did so during her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 8, 2024. Nuland expressed concern. Russian forces have been escalating their military presence near the Ukrainian border. She worried that they might seek to gain control of these facilities. She described them as “diagnostic and biodefense laboratories” that counter biological threats throughout the country.
Victoria Nuland after getting caught:
“Ukraine has uh biological research facilities which we are concerned some of that research could fall into the wrong hands.” PIC.TWITTER.COM/BUEFGPZSHU
— Ahmed (@ahmedyehia___) FEBRUARY 9, 2024
Nuland also refuted allegations from Russia. They said Ukrainians are plotting to use biological weapons against them. She called these allegations “baseless and inflammatory.” She stated, “If such an attack happens in Ukraine, there is no doubt in my mind” that it would be caused by Russian forces themselves. She said this is part of their “hybrid warfare” tactics. This is meant to destabilize and discredit the Ukrainian government.
The State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, echoed Nuland’s remarks. He clarified that these are not biological weapons facilities. Instead, they are institutions that conduct public health research and disease mitigation. They have support from the U.S., the European Union, and the World Health Organization. Price said that these facilities are “transparent and accountable.” They adhere to the Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons.
Price also accused Russia of inventing false pretexts to justify their actions in Ukraine. They said that Russia has a “long history” of spreading disinformation and propaganda to “sow discord and confusion.” He reinforced Nuland’s dismissal of the allegations and her concerns over what Russia itself may be planning. He urged them to “de-escalate and refrain from any further provocations.”
The roots of these facilities can be traced back to the post-Soviet era. The United States launched a program 1991 to collaborate with labs in former Soviet states, including Ukraine. Some of these labs were located in Ukraine. The primary goal of the U.S. was to repurpose these labs for peaceful uses, such as public health and scientific research.
The U.S. established its “Biological Threat Reduction Program” in the 1990s. This program aimed to reduce the risk of biological weapons left behind in countries like Ukraine. Under this program, specific labs in Ukraine received funding from the U.S. The funds went towards modernization and equipment. They also supported training and technical assistance. The program also helped Ukraine to establish a national biosafety and biosecurity system. It also helped build a network of regional reference laboratories.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Defense and Ukraine’s Ministry of Health have partnered since 2005. Their goal is to enhance the country’s public health laboratories and counter the threat of infectious diseases. These diseases include anthrax, plague, tularemia, and brucellosis. The partnership has also supported Ukraine’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s provided diagnostic testing kits, personal protective equipment, and ventilators.
There is no evidence to support claims that these labs produce biological weapons. Russia and some of its media outlets have asserted this. On the contrary, the stated goals of the U.S. program are to reduce the proliferation of such weapons and to promote global health security. The U.S. has also invited Russia to join the program and to cooperate on biosafety and biosecurity issues. However, Russia has declined.
Ukraine’s biological research facilities have been a source of controversy and speculation. This is especially true amid the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. However, a closer look at the facts reveals that these facilities are dedicated to diagnostic and biodefense purposes. They counter biological threats within Ukraine and beyond. They have the support and oversight of the U.S. and other international partners.