WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday denied renewed Russian accusations that Washington was operating biowarfare labs in Ukraine, calling the claims “laughable” and suggesting Moscow may be laying the groundwork to use a chemical or biological weapon.
Late on Tuesday, Russia repeated its accusation of several years that the United States is working with Ukrainian laboratories to develop biological weapons. Such assertions in Russian media increased in the run-up to Moscow’s military move into Ukraine and were made as recently as Wednesday by foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
“The Russian accusations are absurd, they are laughable and you know, in the words of my Irish Catholic grandfather, a bunch of malarkey. There’s nothing to it. It’s classic Russian propaganda,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
In a statement, also released on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia “is inventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, citing what she called Russia’s “false claims,” wrote on Twitter: “It’s Russia that has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons, including in attempted assassinations and poisoning of Putin’s political enemies like Alexey Navalny.”
There was no immediate response from the Russian embassy in Washington to the U.S. assertions on Wednesday. Russia has denied carrying out an attack on Navalny.
On Wednesday, Zakharova said Russia had documents showing the Ukrainian health ministry had ordered the destruction of samples of plague, cholera, anthrax and other pathogens before Feb. 24, when Russian forces moved into Ukraine.
Zakharova said the documents unearthed by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programs” financed by the Pentagon. She provided no further details on the documents.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm her information.
A Ukrainian presidential spokesperson said: “Ukraine strictly denies any such allegation.”
Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans. Its laboratories have received support from the United States, European Union and World Health Organization.
The Pentagon’s Biological Threat Reduction Program has been working with the Ukrainian government to ensure the security of pathogens and toxins stored in the laboratories. In the midst of similar biowarfare accusations in 2020, the U.S. embassy in Kyiv issued a statement saying its involvement was to ensure “dangerous pathogens do not fall into the wrong hands.”
A former U.S. official, who is familiar with the cooperation between Kyiv and Washington, said the United States had helped to convert several Ukrainian laboratories that had been involved in the former Soviet Union’s biological weapons program into public health facilities.
—Editing by Gareth Jones, Angus MacSwan and Howard Goller