Russian MoD Names Curator of Pentagon-Funded Biolabs in Ukraine, Releases Original Docs - By Ilya Tsukanov
The Russian military began to pull back the curtain on the scale and scope of the network of Pentagon-funded biolabs in Ukraine last week. US officials and media initially dismissed these revelations as “Russian disinformation,” but were forced to correct the narrative after undersecretary of state Nuland admitted that such labs do in fact exist.
The Russian Ministry of Defence has released fresh details about the US military-funded biolabs operating in Ukraine, including a trove of original documentation. The MoD also revealed that Joanna Wintrol, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s liason officer at the US Embassy in Kiev, has been serving as one of the programme’s curators.
Commenting on a trove of papers released in a presentation Thursday, Russian Radiological, Chemical and Biological Defence Troops chief Igor Kirillov pointed to a document dated 6 March 2015 which he said confirmed in no uncertain terms that components of biological weapons were being created in Ukraine with direct US involvement and financing.
“An analysis of the information received suggests that Ukrainian specialists have not been made aware of the potential risks involved in the transfer of biomaterials, and that they are essentially being used and kept in the dark, and have no real idea about the true goals of the ongoing research,” Kirillov said at a briefing in Moscow.
Kirillov shed light on a major project worth tens of millions of dollars and involving Ukraine’s top biolabs. The research, known as Project UP-8, was “directed at the study of pathogens of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, leptospirosis and hantaviruses,” according to the RCB Defence Troops chief. It is “no coincidence” that Ukraine-based facilities were chosen by the DTRA and contractor Black & Veatch to execute the project, the officer said, given that these pathogens have natural foci in both Ukraine and Russia.
“Their use can be disguised as the natural outbreak of diseases. This is why this particular project received additional funding, and the deadlines for its implementation were extended,” Kirillov said.
The MoD calculated that labs in Kiev, Odessa, Lvov and Kharkov received $32 million in funding for Project UP-8.
Ukrainian biolaboratories were also the main executor of Project P-782, conducting research into the transmission of diseases through bats. A Russian RCB Defence Troops analysis of documents showed that Pentagon research has been going on since at least 2009 under the direct supervision of US specialists, and that work in this area has also been done through several related projects, known as P-382, P-444 and P-568.
Kirillov said the Pentagon invested $1.6 million into this research, which was said to have been carried out at a lab in Kharkov, northeastern Ukraine, and the Lugar Center in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“One of the curators of this activity was DRA Chief Joanna Wintrol. Perhaps she should speak to journalists?” Kirillov suggested.
The officer also addressed information gleaned from documents received from the Kharkov Institute of Veterinary Medicine on the use of wild migratory birds as vectors for the transmission of a highly pathogenic form of avian influenza. This research, he said, included a study of the conditions under which the processes of the virus’s transmission could become uncontrollable, with the purpose being to cause economic damage and creating risks to food security.
The same Kharkov lab, he said, has been involved with the collection of strains of avian influenza with high epidemic potential, including strains capable of overcoming the interspecies barrier.
Kirillov also reported that the MoD has information that Ukraine’s biolabs are continuing to destroy biomaterials and documentation on their research into dangerous viruses, in accordance with instructions sent out last month by Ukraine’s minister of health.
“We continue to receive information about attempts to destroy biomaterials and documentatation in Ukraine’s laboratories. We are aware that during such liquidation activities at the Laboratory of Veterinary Medicine in the settlement of Khlebodarskoye [Odessa region] Ukrainian nationals working at the lab were not even allowed in the building,” the officer said.
“This laboratory cooperates with the Mechnikov Anti-Plague Research Institute in Odessa, which conducts research on plague, anthrax, cholera, tularemia and arboviruses,” Kirillov said.
The emergency destruction of documents has also taken place in a lab in the city of Kherson. In that case, Kirillov speculated, “one of the reasons for the rush may have been to conceal information about the outbreak of dirofilariasis, a disease transmitted by mosquitos, which took place in Kherson in 2018.”
“The question arises about why four cases of infection were detected in February, which is not typical given the life cycle of these insects. In April 2018, Pentagon representatives visited local health facilities, where they were acquainted with the results of an epidemiological investigation and copied medical records,” the officer said.
No documentary evidence regarding the outbreak has been found in the Kherson lab, suggesting it had been scrubbed to prevent it from falling into the hands of Russian specialists, Kirillov said.
Kirillov also expanded on previously-made MoD allegations on the sending of serum samples of Ukrainian patients abroad, citing documentation on the transfer of 5,000 samples to the Lugar Center, and indications that 773 more samples were sent to a UK reference lab. The MoD released a sample invoice.
Commenting on the security implications of the US-funded Ukrainian biolabs’ operations for the region, Kirillov said that the 2018 deaths of over 70 residents of the settlement of Peski, Donetsk People’s Republic from drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis may be associated with the activities of one such lab, with pathogens either accidentally or deliberately leaked.
The officer accused the United States and Ukraine of keeping silent about the research taking place at Ukrainian biolabs from the United Nations, notwithstanding Biological Weapons Convention rules requiring member countries to submit detailed information on their biological activities.
“I’m referring here to the confidence-building measures, which are published with the aim of monitoring the implementation of the Convention. Since 2016, the moment that the projects we’ve named began to be realized…the United States and Ukraine have deliberately kept silent about this work in international reporting, due to its clear military-biological direction. This secrecy is another reason to stop and think about the goals the Pentagon is pursuing in Ukraine,” Kirillov suggested.
The officer suggested that essentially, Washington’s farming out of its military biological activities to third countries serves a means to bypass its international obligations by proxy. The current activity is also nothing new, Kirillov stressed, pointing, for example, to President Barack Obama’s surprise admission in 2010 that the United States deliberately infected Guatemalan nationals with syphilis and gonorrhea pathogens in the 1940s.
The Russian military began to disclose details on the scale and scope of the US-funded network of biolabs across Ukraine last week. US officials and media immediately dismissed the MoD’s reporting as Russian propaganda and disinformation, releasing articles and fact checks to that effect. These same officials and media were put on the spot on 7 March when undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland told lawmakers that “biological research facilities” were in fact operating in Ukraine.
Nuland said the United States was “quite concerned” that Russian troops may take control of these labs, and assured that Washington was “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.”