How and Why Russian Propaganda “Looks” for US Biolabs in Ukraine and the World

They search, they “find,” they investigate, they deny any refutations and refer to “blatant lies”  —  this is the principle of Russian propaganda regarding so-called “biolabs” in the world and, in particular, in Ukraine. 

The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security analysed publications on biolabs in the Russian media, collected through machine learning of the Attack Index monitoring system, for 4 months (from May 1 to August 31). The service determines the number of publications/news/posts based on the similarity of text arrays and combines them into a plot.

However, firstly, it is worth noting that reports of the existence of so-called “U.S. biolabs” and their use for malicious purposes in Ukraine and the world have already been repeatedly refuted. In addition to Ukrainian ministries, in August, the governments of nine more countries — the United States, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Liberia, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Uganda — issued a joint statement in which they refuted the Kremlin’s disinformation narratives about the development of biological weapons in “secret laboratories.” 

Where does Russia get information about “U.S. biolabs”?

The largest number of sources of information on the activities of so-called “American biolabs” account for the very same Russian structures — the Ministry of Defence, the Parliamentary Commission on Investigation into Activities of the US Biological Laboratories in Ukraine, etc. But the most frequent speaker on this topic was the co-chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Investigation into Activities of the US Biological Laboratories in Ukraine, Irina Yarovaya.

Fake documents serve as the “evidence base” for propagandists. For example, in June, Russian media began to replicate an alleged document of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, which was to prove the existence of “secret biolabs” and their work with US military biological laboratories. However, the document contained several linguistic errors, indicating that the document was actually written by a Russian speaker.

Moreover, from time to time, statements on “U.S. military bioactivity in Ukraine” appeared in Russian media from representatives of China and North Korea.

The Russian propaganda tried to obtain comments from alleged Ukrainians on these “facts.” However, only collaborators and fleeing pro-Russian politicians are ready to cooperate. 

For example, collaborator and a so-called “member of the main council of the military and civil administration of Zaporizhzhia region” of the occupation authorities Vladimir Rogov made more than one statement about “biolabs” during the study period. The information was also disseminated by Mykola Azarov.

Russian propaganda also refers to Western representatives, but the comments of such speakers are usually manipulated. One example is the speech of Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State, whose words were taken out of context. In this way, Russian propaganda launched disinformation that the USA recognized the existence of its “biolabs” on the territory of Ukraine.

Where would one look for imaginary “U.S. biolabs” in Ukraine and in the world?

With the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the seizure of Ukrainian cities by the Russian occupiers, the so-called “biolaboratories” began to receive clear geolocations, en masse. And, surprisingly, most of them were found in the temporarily occupied territories, in the territories with active hostilities, and in the cities on the front line.

For example, from May to August, such “biolabs” were allegedly located in Mariupol, Strilecha village of Kharkiv region, Zaporizhzhia, Rubizhne, and Sievierodonetsk.

The same collaborator Vladimir Rogov made statements about the “Zaporizhzhia biolaboratory”; in Rubizhne, Russian propaganda turned a run-of-the-mill pharmaceutical company into a “secret biolaboratory”; and in Mariupol, the laboratory of “Donetsk Oblast Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine,” the function of which is epidemic control in the region and which has no relation to NATO, was called  a “NATO biolaboratory.”

However, the “U.S. biolaboratories” are a myth of Russian propaganda not only about Ukraine. The “activities of American biolabs” in Russian media during May-August alone were cited to have been found in Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc. The key figure in all these narratives is the USA, which supposedly creates, finances, and manages these “biolabs.”

An active disinformation campaign against Nigeria in May-June was triggered by the spread of monkeypox, the emergence of which Russia linked to “U.S. biolabs” in Nigeria.

What stories does the Russian propaganda tell about “secret biolabs”?

Points and narratives which were constantly reproduced in the period from May to August in the Russian information space were as follows.

“Developments in American biolaboratories in Ukraine and the world are threatening/lethal.” This narrative was especially actively disseminated in May and June, and it became clearer in the following months and in the context of other narratives. 

In August, Russia’s Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu also used this narrative regarding “biolabs” in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“The USA controls Ukraine and the world with the help of biolaboratories” is a common Russian narrative. For example, according to Irina Yarovaya, “American military biolabs are aimed at creating a system of dependence of the whole world on the United States, including in the matter of saving lives. The USA, with their help, manages the number of population in different countries.” Another “point” was that “under the guise of aid, the Pentagon occupied Ukraine.”

The Ukrainians/AFU soldiers are objects of US experiments.” Here, we observe a gradual transformation of the narrative during May-August. In May, we see a generalized narrative that “the US has made Ukrainians its objects of experimentation,” but in July, this narrative begins to be used in the context of servicemen of the Armed Forces. 

In particular, in the second half of July, reports began to spread that “AFU fighters were pumped with drugs from American biolabs.” For example, on July 16, the TV channel “Russia-1” showed a story about a “network of biolabs” in Luhansk oblast, where allegedly “strong drugs were found, which can also supposedly be found in the first-aid kits of Ukrainian soldiers.” But it’s also a fake

In addition, another narrative was “Kyiv conducted experiments on the servicemen of the AFU.” A disinformation narrative about the “experiments on the Armed Forces soldiers by the USA” continued to be actively circulated in the propaganda media through the end of the summer. 

At the end of July, the narrative also expanded to something like “The Pentagon uses not only Ukrainians, but also Bulgarians and Americans in biological experiments.” 

“US bioLabs are NATO military facilities near the Russian border.” Irina Yarovaya also often said that, supposedly, “US biolabs along the perimeter of Russia can be considered NATO facilities.” 

However, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so it is impossible to open NATO military facilities here. Military cooperation between Ukraine and NATO is limited to assistance in the implementation of reforms in Ukraine, consultations, exchange of experience between the military, participation of individual units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in NATO operations or exercises.

“Ukraine is a proving ground for the US.” Another “point” repeated by Russian propaganda regarding the “location of US biolabs in Ukraine.” 

“The conduct of the ‘special military operation’ revealed plans for biological attacks by the United States against Russia and suspended the activities of US biolabs.” In July, the previous narrative about “NATO near the borders of Russia” was transformed into “a specific threat of biological weapons from the United States to be used against Russia.” Thus, Russia tries to continue to justify the invasion of Ukraine and show off the “successful” course of the “special operation.” 

According to the Russian propaganda, “by starting the process of suspending the activities of American biolabs in Ukraine, Russia provides an invaluable service to the global community.” This narrative echoes the standard narratives of Russia about “peacekeepers” and “noble goals.”

At the same time, in July, the number of reports on “Russia’s readiness/capacity to protect itself from US biological weapons directed against Russia” increased.

“The official activity of the Pentagon in Ukraine is only a cover-up for conducting illegal military and biological research.” In July, this idea was disseminated by the Russian Ministry of Defence, which gives the theories of “biolaboratories” a flair of conspiracy. 

“The US biolaboratories created/US biolaboratories were the reason for the spread of COVID-19, monkeypox, etc.” With renewed vigour, this narrative came to life in regard to Nigeria in May and June in the context of the spread of monkeypox. 

The topic of COVID-19 and putting the blame for its creation on American biolabs did not stop; it was especially active in July and August. Moreover, according to the Russian propaganda, “in Donbas, the incidence of infections increased after US bioprogrammes,” “the United States conducted research on Ebola and smallpox viruses in Ukraine,” “the State Duma of Russia associated the growth of thyroid diseases in Ukraine with the activities of American biological laboratories in the country,” “the authorities of Zaporizhzhia presumed there was a connection of outbreaks of swine flu with activities of biolaboratories in Ukraine.”

“The American military and biological programme was a continuation of the projects of fascist Germany and militarist Japan.” “The United States, together with the Japanese, continue fascist projects on the global scale,” — another statement by Irina Yarovaya.

“Viruses that can be transmitted through animals are studied in American biolaboratories in Ukraine.” Repeatedly, Russian propaganda talked about raising infected birds in Ukraine’s biolaboratories. This summer, propagandists invented a new fake  —  “US-curated biolaboratories in Ukraine studied viruses that can be transmitted through mosquitoes, including Dengue fever.” 

The Russian Ministry of Defence published 3 documents to “confirm it,” but this was a fake  — the documents do not mention infecting people with viruses through mosquito bites, nor are the viruses studied in any way contagious or dangerous for humans or other species than mosquitoes.

“Denying the presence of US biolabs in Ukraine and elsewhere is a lie.” Although this narrative is not too common in Russia, since the propaganda of Russia is mostly focused on the presence, rather than on denying refutations, it is on the agenda. 

Why is Russia so eager to “find” “US biolaboratories” in Ukraine?

  1. To justify a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For example, in July, the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, explained the reason for the announcement of the “special operation in Ukraine”: “the functioning of biolabs in Ukraine.” 
  2. Russia itself is ready to use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. This method is absolutely typical of Russian propaganda and Russia as in general — to shift the blame in advance, manipulating the information basis. 

What is the truth about biological research?

“Secret US biolabs in Ukraine” is a fiction of Russian propaganda. There is no confirmation that there are American laboratories in Ukraine. 

Cooperation between Ukraine and the United States is aimed at countering biological terrorism and takes place exclusively within the framework of Ukrainian legislation and in the interests of Ukraine. 

Since 1993, there has been an agreement to assist our state in the elimination of strategic nuclear weapons and the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. One of its items is the timely detection and counteraction to outbreaks caused by dangerous pathogens.

Moreover, in 2005, the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the U.S. Defence Department signed a framework Agreement to prevent the spread of technologies, pathogens, and knowledge that can be used in the development of biological weapons. Within the framework of this Agreement, a number of state laboratories located in Odesa, Kharkiv, Lviv, Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk oblasts were modernized (repair works, upgraded equipment, procured consumables, etc.). 

The Security Service of Ukraine emphasizes that these laboratories are financed from the national budget, are subordinate to the Ministry of Health and the State Service of Ukraine on Food Safety and Consumer Protection.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

Media version of the article can be found on the website of Ukrainska Pravda 

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