The United Nations has said it is not aware of a biological weapons program in Ukraine, as Washington and its allies rejected Russia’s claim that such a program exists at an emergency Security Council meeting.
Russia called the meeting on Friday to discuss its unproven allegations that Ukraine is operating biological weapons labs with US support.
Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the 15-member council that the UN is “not aware of any biological weapons programs” in Ukraine.
Nakamitsu said that both Ukraine and Russia are state parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), an international treaty that bans such weapons. “Biological weapons have been prohibited since the BWC came into force in 1975,” he added.
The discussion took place in the middle of Russia ongoing military invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24 and has since seen Russian troops launch attacks on Ukrainian cities and advance towards the capital, Kiev. The conflict has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee Ukraine so far.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said during Friday’s UN Security Council meeting that Moscow had discovered a network of 30 biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine.
But that was rejected by Nebenzia’s US counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who accused Russia of “trying to use the Security Council to legitimize disinformation and mislead people to justify the president [Vladimir] Putin’s war of choice against the Ukrainian people.”
“I will say this once: Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program. There are no US-backed Ukrainian bioweapons labs, not near the Russian border or anywhere else,” Thomas-Greenfield told the council.
Under a 2005 agreement, the Pentagon has helped several Ukrainian public health laboratories improve the safety of dangerous pathogens and the technology used for research. Those efforts have been supported by other countries and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The OMS saying the Reuters news agency on Thursday that it had advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in its public health laboratories to avoid “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population.
The White House earlier this week rejected as “absurd” Russia’s accusations that the United States is operating biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine, accusing the Kremlin of preparing a pretext to use chemical or biological weapons in its offensive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also dismissed Russia’s accusations in a video address Thursday, saying: “No one is developing any chemicals or any other weapons of mass destruction” in Ukraine.
We note Russia’s false claims about alleged US biological weapons laboratories and chemical weapons development in Ukraine. We have also seen Chinese officials echo these conspiracy theories.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) March 9, 2022
Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to the UN, also strongly rejected the Russian accusations, telling the Security Council that Moscow had made “a series of wild, completely unfounded and irresponsible conspiracy theories.”
“There is not a shred of credible evidence that Ukraine has a biological weapons program… This is yet another lie in Russia’s disinformation campaign.”
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the UN on Friday, noted that China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, was the only Security Council member to have given “any credence” to Russia’s claims.
“However, he was somewhat moderate in terms of his tone, very moderately calling for a full investigation due to the danger of any form of military and biological warfare,” Hanna said. “Also making it very clear that China would want to be actively involved in helping other nations secure a truce between Russia and Ukraine.”
Russia has come under increasing international pressure to stop the war in Ukraine, with the US and the European Union issuing a wide range of sanctions against Russian leaders and oligarchs, as well as major drivers of the country’s economy, including the energy sector.
Earlier on Friday, US President Joe Biden Announced that Washington was revoking Moscow’s “most favored nation” trade status, a move that allows the US to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods.