UNSC Session on Biological Laboratories in Ukraine: Statement by Vassily Nebenzia

Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at the UNSC briefing on biological laboratories in Ukraine

Mme.President,

Colleagues,

COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how vulnerable humanity is in the face of biological threats. It has exacted a huge toll on us, and it continues to claim people’s lives.

When the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) entered into force in 1975, there was hope that the world would at least be safe from manmade biological threats, because all states-signatories realized enormous risks of using biological weapons (BW) and abandoned plans to develop it.

Unfortunately, we have grounds to think that those hopes did not come true completely.

We called this meeting because during the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, some shocking facts came to light: the Kiev regime is urgently concealing traces of a military biological program that Kiev implemented with support of the US Department of Defense.

Defense Ministry of Russia got hold of documents confirming that Ukraine developed a network of at least 30 biological laboratories that host extremely dangerous biological experiments, aimed at enhancing the pathogen properties of plague, anthrax, tularemia, cholera, and other lethal diseases with the help of synthetic biology. This work is funded and directly supervised by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the United States, i.a. in the interests of Pentagon’s National Center for Medical Intelligence. The key role in these programs was played by a BSL-3 central reference laboratory at the Mechnikov Scientific-Research Anti-Plague Institute in Odessa, Ukraine. Research centers in other cities also played a role – Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov, Dnipro, Kherson, Ternopol, Uzhgorod, Vinnytsia. Research results were sent to US military biological centers, i.a. to U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infections Diseases, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, US Naval Medical Research, and US Army Biological Warfare Labs in Fort Detrick that used to be the key hubs of the American biological weapons program.

All the materials are available at the website of Russian Ministry of Defense and are presented at daily briefings. Let me cite the most telling examples.

Russian military learned the details of UP-4 project which was implemented at laboratories in Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa. It studied possibilities of spreading particularly dangerous infections through migratory birds, including highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza (lethal to humans in 50 % of cases) and Newcastle disease. As part of another project, bats were considered as carriers of potential BW agents. Among the priorities identified are the study of bacterial and viral pathogens that can be transmitted from bats to humans: pathogens of plague, leptospirosis, brucellosis, as well as coronaviruses and filoviruses. Project documents clearly indicate that the United States actively financed bioprojects in Ukraine.

Besides, there were experiments to study spreading of dangerous infectious diseases by ectoparasites – fleas and lice. It is clear even to non-experts that such experiments are most reckless, as they give no opportunity to control how the situation is going to evolve. Similar research (using fleas and lice as BW agents) was carried out in the 1940s on the development of biological weapons components by the Japanese infamous unit 731, whose members later fled to the US to escape prosecution for war crimes.

Ukraine has a unique geographical location, where transcontinental migration routes of potential carriers of dangerous diseases intersect. Many of those routes pass through the territories of Russia and Eastern Europe. The research that I mentioned was done in the very midst of Eastern Europe and in close vicinity to the Russian borders. According to the data received, the birds that were ringed and released during biological research from the Kherson nature reserve, were caught in Ivanovo and Voronezh regions of Russia.

The analysis of the obtained materials confirms the transfer of more than 140 containers with ectoparasites of bats from a biolab in Kharkov abroad. We do not know anything about the fate of those dangerous biomaterials and the consequences that may occur once they “dissipate” (possibly in Europe) in the absence of any international control. In any case, risks are high that they may be stolen for terrorist purposes or to be sold at the black market.

Several thousands of samples of blood serum of COVID-19 patients (most of them of Slavic ethnicity) were transported from Ukraine to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the United Stated – allegedly for trials of treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

Everyone knows how sensitive Western states are when it comes to transferring biological samples of their citizens abroad. And there is a good reason for that – theoretically, samples may be used to create bioagents capable of selectively targeting different ethnic populations.

The activity of biolabs in Ukraine that we track back to 2014, and US-implemented program of so-called reform of Ukrainian healthcare system triggered uncontrolled growing incidence of dangerous and economically relevant infections in Ukraine. There is an increase in the number of cases of rubella, diphtheria, tuberculosis. Occurrence of measles has increased more than 100-fold. The World Health Organization said Ukraine runs high risks of having a polio outbreak. There is evidence that in Kharkov, where one of the labs is located, 20 Ukrainian soldiers died of swine flu in January 2016, 200 more were hospitalized. By March 2016, the total of 364 people had died of swine flu in Ukraine. Besides, outbreaks of African swine fever occur regularly in Ukraine. In 2019, there was an outbreak of a disease that had symptoms similar to plague.

While the US itself shut down military-purpose biological research on its territory due to high risks it posed to American population, the Kiev authorities actually agreed to turn their country into a biological testing site and have their citizens used as potential test subjects. Those experiments bearing potential country-scale risks continued for years. This once again proves the cynicism of Kiev’s Western patrons who keep shouting from every rooftop that they care for the fate of Ukrainians.

As reported by Reuters, WHO recommended that Ukraine should eliminate its stocks of pathogens to avoid possible leaks that might trigger disease spread among the population. It is not known for sure whether Kiev has complied.

The materials that our Defense Ministry got hold of prove that all serious high-risk research in Ukrainian biolabs was directly supervised by US experts who had diplomatic immunity. Our Defense Ministry reports that at this moment the Kiev regime, as demanded by the Western sponsors, hastily covers up all traces so that the Russian side could not get hold of direct evidence of the US and Ukraine violating Article 1 of the BTWC. They rush to shut down all biological programs. Ukraine’s Health Ministry ordered to eliminate biological agents deposited in biolabs starting from 24 February 2022. We infer from the instructions to lab personnel that the order of elimination of collections suggested that they should be destroyed irrevocably. Having analyzed the destruction certificates, we can say that the Lvov lab alone destroyed 232 containers with pathogens of leptospirosis, 30 – of tularemia, 10 – of brucellosis, 5 – of plague. The total of more than 320 containers was eliminated. Pathogens’ titles and excessive amounts give reason to think that this work was done as part of military biological programs.

Now let me make a separate address to our colleagues from Europe.

All those years, there was a site for dangerous biological tests on the doorstep of the European Union. We call to think of a real biological threat to the population of European states that may be posed by uncontrolled spread of biological agents from Ukraine. As we know from our experience with COVID-19, this cannot be stopped. Should this be the case, it will encompass the entire Europe.

US representatives get rather confused when speaking about the US involvement in biological activity on the territory of Ukraine. During hearings of the US Congress on 8 March, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland in fact confirmed that there were biolabs in Ukraine where military-purpose biological research had been conducted. When asked by Senator Marco Rubio whether Ukraine had biological and chemical weapons, she responded that Ukraine had biological research facilities that “should not fall in the hands of Russian forces”.

At the same time, the Department of State sticks to the point that allegedly there are no US-controlled biolabs in Ukraine. Hence a question to the American delegation. How does this reconcile with 2005 Agreement between the US Department of Defense and Ukrainian Ministry of Health Concerning Cooperation in the Area of Prevention of Proliferation of Technology, Pathogens, and Expertise that could be Used in the Development of Biological Weapons? This document is available on the Internet. According to Article 3 of this agreement, the US Department of Defense may provide assistance to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine in the area of “cooperative biological research, biological threat agent detection and response” with regard to “dangerous pathogens located at the facilities in Ukraine”.

We emphasize that biological threats defy all borders. No region of the world can feel totally safe today. The United States supervises several hundreds of biolabs in 30 countries, i.a. in the Middle East, Africa, South-East Asia, and along the perimeter of former USSR. Washington does not agree to subject them to international verification. Starting from 2001, it has been impeding elaboration of a binding protocol to the BTWC that should envisage a reliable verification mechanism to monitor states’ compliance with the Convention. This cannot but make us think that the United States has something to conceal. I call on the colleagues from those regions to think of what sort of activity Washington is carrying out on their territories and what consequences it may have for the population.

We foresee the reaction of our Western colleagues who will definitely say that this information is all fake and Russian propaganda. However this sort of wishful thinking will hardly help Europeans should Ukraine and its neighboring states have outbreaks of dangerous diseases that would subsequently spread beyond their borders. This risk seems rather real if we take into account considerable interest that Ukrainian radical and nationalist groups have in research of dangerous pathogens that was conducted in Ukraine in the interests of the US Department of Defense. We have information that Pentagon instructed its Ukrainian protégés that, should any incidents occur, they should instantly accuse Russian Armed Forces who allegedly launch strikes against research and medical facilities, or blame it all on “Russian subversive teams”.

Russian Defense Ministry keeps analyzing the biological situation in Ukraine and all incoming materials. What we shared today is a small portion of information that we have. We will share the details shortly as UNSC official documents so that you could study them.

We feel obliged to keep the Security Council updated on the situation with US military-purpose biological activity in Ukraine that creates real risks for international peace and security. We intend to get back to this topic soon. We would not exclude a possibility of activating mechanisms envisaged by Articles 5 and 6 of the BTWC. For now, we would like to hear answers of the US side to the questions that we asked.

Thank you.

Right of reply:

Mr.President,

What are the takeaways of this discussion? As we supposed, none of our colleagues spoke to the point that we raised.

While my American colleague was “hurling thunderbolts”, accusing us (quite predictably) of propaganda, two things came to my mind. The first one is a Russian proverb that can be roughly translated as “a guilty mind is never at ease”. The louder our colleagues cry when making baseless attempts to shift the blame on us, the more we believe that we hit a nerve when we raised their unseemly activities in Ukraine. Secondly, you cannot help recalling another episode that was repeatedly mentioned in various contexts. I mean C.Powell’s famous lab tube that he demonstrated in this very room and that served as a formal reason for US invasion of Iraq that caused an enormous number of victims and huge damage. It affected the entire region and triggered i.a. creation of ISIL terrorist organization. Our Albanian colleague talked about a Pandora’s box today. Well, this was a Pandora’s Box. Many of you said you were not aware of Ukraine’s biological programs, but this does not mean they did not exist. Military research is a secret venture. Those engaged in it would not report it to USG Nakamitsu.

Think of Raqqa and Mosul that were razed to the ground. The US-led coalition buried thousands of civilian lives under the ruins of these cities. Dead bodies lay under the rubble for several months, and I can’t remember our colleagues spilling their righteous anger on that matter. We repeatedly raised it at UNSC meetings, but the topic simply died out and no one would get back to it. However not a day goes by without speculations about atrocities of Russian forces, daily attacks on hospitals, kindergartens, schools, maternity clinics, use of cluster bombs, which our Defense Ministry refuted repeatedly.

Maternity hospital #1 in Mariupol has become proverbial in this respect. Let me ask – did you listen to what we said here on Monday, 7 March? It was about militants and radicals turning this building in a gun post. We warned about it back then, but you would not listen, and you do not want to listen to what we say. You saw pictures of the maternity hospital allegedly hit by a bomb or missile. I also have them here. They show a building, windowless but not ruined. I bet you can imagine what should have happened to a building hit by a bomb or missile strike, and also to everyone inside. I have photo and video footage from inside the building. It shows a mess, furniture scattered upside down, and intact chairs.

Let me ask again: can you imagine what sort of damage would have been inflicted by a bomb or missile strike? Military experts could tell you. As a matter of fact, they already have. They demonstrated a photo of the crater next to the building. By all indications, it was caused by an underground explosion. In the meantime, we are told about 17 people injured in this building, and none killed. As a proof, we are supposed to accept staged photos of Ukrainian blogger Marianna Podgurskaya taken by AP stringer Evgeniy Maloletka. By the way, web users already discovered that she roleplays different women in different photos.

We are appalled by the vile and dirty campaign besmirching the Russian military, who are accused of attacking civil facilities on purpose. You blame us for fakes and propaganda, but you ignore an overwhelming amount of fakes, replicated by Ukrainian and Western centers for special psychological operations. At the same time, you keep shamefully silent about the fact that you almost cut off access to Russian sources of information. Over these days, we have learnt much about the freedom of speech which you believe yourselves to be champions of.

Let me respond to my British colleague who cited, incompletely as usual, the words of Minister Lavrov that we did not start a war. Here is the full quote: “We did not start the war, we want to put an end to it”. Indeed, it was not started by us, it was started 8 years ago by the Kiev authorities in Donbas.

Yesterday, a video was uploaded on the Internet depicting Ukrainians in military uniform somewhere near Kharkov who reportedly down Russian aircraft from a portable air defense launcher. Close by, there is a white vehicle (seemingly a Toyota) with UN insignia. Presumably, those people arrived on the scene by this vehicle. We already asked representatives of UN Secretariat about it, but were reassured that UN vehicles were not used by Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces (UN vehicles were previously reported to be used in Kramatorsk). We insist that the United Nations should investigate this incident. Even if it turns out that this car is not a UN vehicle, usage of UN insignia on transport that is used in hostilities is unacceptable.

Thank you.