WAR IN UKRAINERussia's Claims of Ukrainian Biological Weapons: A Propaganda Ploy?

By Roman Goncharenko

Published 3 May 2022

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has claimed Kyiv is developing biological weapons with support from the US and Germany. Experts familiar with laboratories in Ukraine say the accusations are groundless.

Is Kyiv developing biological weapons in secret laboratories with US support, or is this claim simply a pretext for Russia’s war in Ukraine? In late April, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited a “network of Western bioweapons labs” in Ukraine as one of the threats facing Moscow and one it wanted to fight through its invasion of the country.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, says it has proof that Kyiv is developing biological weapons “with the direct involvement of the Pentagon.” Kyiv and Washington deny the claims.

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which entered into force in 1975, prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. But there’s a fine line between military and civilian research and development, experts tell DW, which can be easily exploited for propaganda purposes. 

The Russian allegations center around pathogens that cause plague, anthrax and diphtheria. Richard Guthrie, a British expert on chemical and biological warfare, believes such allegations are a common element of contemporary propaganda because rumors of biological weapons have such a powerful psychological effect.

The main purpose of biological weapons is not necessarily to make a large number of people sick, he says, but to spread fear — “so that people don’t want to go to a certain food or water source,” for example.

A number of German biological weapons experts who have analyzed the Russian claims on behalf of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg agree that stoking public fear is the main objective, and allude to Russian “misinformation.” “There are bioweapons labs in Ukraine which are supported by the US and also Germany, but the research conducted there is not covert but extremely transparent,” says Gunnar Jeremias, an expert on biological arms control.

Deliberate Lies’
“These are deliberate lies or twisting of facts,” says John Gilbert, a former US nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons inspector who worked in the former Soviet republics, including in Ukraine, and now works for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington DC.

In the early 1990s, the US government worked with bio labs in former Soviet states, he explained, as part of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, designed to dismantle weapons of mass destruction and decommission nuclear, biological and chemical weapon stockpiles.