Original article (in Bosnian) was published on 10/03/2022
False claims about “American biolabs” in Ukraine have been spreading for years. In the midst of the war in this country, followers of QAnon and other conspiracy theories claim that these labs are the real target of the Russian attack.
A screenshot of a tweet was published on February 24, 2022, on a Facebook profile Vekki Qurguz. It allegedly shows the location of “American biolabs in Ukraine”. This post states the following:
PUTIN IS BOMBING AMERICAN BIO LABS IN UKRAINE.
UNDERGROUND FOR TRADE
THE BASE OF THE CORRUPTED US GOVERNMENT GOVERNING UKRAINE.
A CLEAN-UP OPERATION
The screenshot states in English that the map shows “exclusive American biolabs in Ukraine, which are financed at the expense of the United States Department of Defense”. The laboratories are reportedly located in the cities of Odessa, Vinnytsia, Uzhhorod, Kherson, Ternopil, near Crimea and Luhansk, and three laboratories are in Lviv and Kyiv. Two other possible locations are the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv.
We found the claim suggesting that “American biolabs”, “satanic buildings,” and “underground for trade” are being bombed in Ukraine, in the posts of a dozen other Facebook profiles and pages.
When did the claims about American biolabs in Ukraine start to appear?
We found the first publication of this claim in our language on the website Sputnik, in an article published on August 15, 2015. This article is entitled:
Russia is worried about American biolabs in its vicinity
According to the article, a Russian source stated at a meeting of experts from the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxic Weapons and their destruction that on the post-Soviet ground, the US military sector is building biolabs with a high degree of protection which can be used to produce biological weapons”. Sputnik refers to the RIA news agency from Russia. Still, we could not find the original article since, at the time of writing this analysis, the RIA agency’s website was unavailable.
The article does not offer any material evidence for the claim that the American military sector is allegedly building laboratories, but only the statement of an unnamed source from the Russian agency.
From 2015 until the writing of this analysis, the same claims have been updated on several occasions with various inaccurate claims that allegedly proved this narrative.
Do such biolabs exist?
According to them, these claims are part of the Russian propaganda narrative directed against Ukraine, and they have been appearing in various forms for several years. In its analysis from February 24, 2022, Snopes explains that such allegations stem from a distorted interpretation of the fact that in 2005 the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the United States Department of Defense signed an agreement on cooperation in preventing the proliferation of technologies, pathogens and expertise that could be used in the development of biological weapons. Snopes, citing the Chicago Tribune, said the agreement was made to “stop the threat of bioterrorism by putting in place protective mechanisms against deadly pathogens dating back to Soviet-era biological weapons programs”.
As for the claims that these laboratories are “American”, Snopes points out the following:
While the US Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program has provided some funds to upgrade biolabs in Ukraine, these facilities are managed by the Ukrainian government in accordance with guidelines established by Ukrainian law.
There is no evidence to suggest that these laboratories were “installed” by the US military or managed by US forces.
In its analysis from February 24, 2022, PolitiFact also explains that such laboratories do not exist, which was confirmed by Andrew Andy Weber, a member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association and former Assistant Minister of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.
“In fact, the US Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Cooperation Program has been providing technical support to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health since 2005 to upgrade public health laboratories whose mission is analogous to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”, Weber told PolitiFact.
“These laboratories have recently played an important role in stopping the spread of Covid-19”, he added.
Numerous official sources from the USA and Ukraine have repeatedly denied the claim that there are American biolabs in Ukraine and explained what these laboratories actually do. Thus, on the YouTube channel of the US Embassy in Ukraine, US Embassy Kyiv, on January 14, 2022, published a video entitled “Biological threat reduction program: Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia”, explaining how the program works. On May 8, 2022, the Ukrainian Security Service called on politicians to stop spreading false claims about the alleged existence of biolabs run by foreign armies. In a video published on January 11, 2022, on their official YouTube channel, officials from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency explained the essential nature of the project and pointed out the inaccuracy of the mentioned claims.
Official sources from Russia spread allegations of the existence of such laboratories
The fact that this represents a part of the propaganda narrative that comes from official Russia was confirmed by a post published on the official Facebook page of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 27, 2022. The published announcement states the following:
The United States crammed Ukraine with biolabs, which were – very possibly – used to study methods for destroying the Russian people at the genetic level.
About twenty media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region shared this statement. The media mostly shared the statement’s content, without checking the allegations made in it. Some media stated that these were “accusations” or “extremely strange claims” of the Embassy. On February 27, 2022, the website Informer published an article with a sensationalist title to evoke the fear of the alleged possibility of starting a war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The title states:
AMERICA AND RUSSIA HAVE MOVED THE WAR TO BIH – WHO OWNS THE BIOLABS FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF RUSSIANS, WHO IS INVADING UKRAINE ?! Bosnia is a powder keg…
How are the claims about the existence of American biolabs in Ukraine related to the war?
On February 24, 2022, Russia attacked several Ukrainian cities, thus initiating an invasion of this country. Various disinformation and conspiracy theories related to this war quickly appeared on social networks. According to Snopes, the claim that the real targets of the Russian invasion were the American biolabs in Ukraine, was initially published on the Twitter account @WarClandestine on February 24, 2022. This account has been suspended on Twitter, but as PolitiFact points out, the post has been shared on other accounts on this social network.
In our speaking area, as pointed out at the beginning, this claim was first published on the Facebook profile of Vekki Qurguz on February 24, 2022. As “evidence” that such laboratories are the real target of the Russian attack, users of social networks shared the mentioned map, which allegedly shows where these laboratories are located, and a map that shows which areas of Ukraine Russia bombed. Snopes compared these maps, stating that “the rocket attack map shows dozens of locations that do not match the alleged locations of the biolabs, and the biolab map contains several locations that do not match the attack map”.
There is also no evidence for the claim that “the underground trade” was bombed in Ukraine, just as there is no evidence that such “underground” exists. Raskrinkavanje has dealt with claims about the alleged existence of such tunnels on several occasions (1, 2).
Some articles related to this topic claim that the American embassy in Ukraine allegedly “removed from its website all documents on biolabss financed by the Pentagon in Ukraine”. We found this claim in our language, published on the website Borba za veru, on February 27, 2022. However, as noted by many social media users, a complete DNS entry for the domain where these documents should be stored is not available (http://photos.state.gov/). Therefore, the mentioned documents are inaccessible because the entire domain is non-functional, that is, it is not possible to access any content stored on it.
Since various inaccurate claims are used to allegedly prove the narrative that such laboratories exist, we will deal with some of them in the following analysis.
Given all the facts, we rate the claim published in our language on the website Sputnik, suggesting that there are American biolabs in Ukraine, as fake news.
Other publications of the same claim receive the rating for the distribution of fake news.
We also give the fake news rating to the claim that the real targets of the Russian attack in Ukraine are the mentioned biolabs. We rate other publications of the same claim as the distribution of fake news.
Furthermore, we evaluate the same claim as a conspiracy theory, since it implies the existence of a conspiracy to hide alleged American biolabs.
The media announcements of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which do not offer any additional explanation regarding the existence of the alleged laboratories or present any evidence, receive the rating for the manipulation of the facts.
We assess the claim that the American embassy in Ukraine “removed from its website all documents on biolabs financed by the Pentagon in Ukraine” as disinformation.