WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – Prominent social media users and conservative voices have amplified a baseless theory promoted by Russian state media accusing the United States of funding biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine.
There is no evidence to support the claims, which President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have all unequivocally denied.
There are biological laboratories inside Ukraine, and since 2005, the United States has provided backing to a number of institutions to prevent the production of biological weapons.
But Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others have misleadingly cited remarks from American officials as proof that the labs are producing or conducting research on biological weapons.
“Out of nowhere, the Biden official in charge of Ukraine confirmed the story,” Carlson said on his programme on Thursday (March 10) night.
“Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state, casually mentioned in a Senate hearing on Tuesday that actually, yes, the Biden administration does fund a series of biolabs in Ukraine.”
Republican representative Thomas Massie, characterised Ms Nuland’s remarks as a “serious admission”. Mr Donald Trump Jr, son of the former president, tweeted that her comments propelled the claim from “conspiracy theory to fact”. Mr Carlson also pointed to an interview with Mr Robert Pope, director of the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which helps countries in the former Soviet Union secure or eliminate nuclear and chemical weapons.
“As Pope put it, scientists are scientists; they don’t want to destroy all the bioweapons,” Mr Carlson said. “Instead, they’re using them to conduct new bioweapons research – that’s what he said.” Mr Carlson mischaracterised those remarks from Ms Nuland and Mr Pope.
In congressional testimony this week, Ms Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, was asked by Republican senator Marco Rubio, whether Ukraine has chemical or biological weapons.
“Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of,” she responded. “So we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.”
If there were a biological or chemical weapon attack inside Ukraine, Mr Rubio asked, would there be any doubt that Russia was behind it?
“There is no doubt in my mind, Senator, and it is classic Russian technique to blame the other guy what they’re planning to do themselves,” Ms Nuland responded.
The State Department said Ms Nuland was referring to Ukrainian diagnostic and biodefence laboratories during her testimony, which are different from biological weapons facilities. Rather, these biodefence laboratories counter biological threats throughout the country, the department said.
Mr Rubio made the same clarification in another congressional hearing on Thursday, noting that “there’s a difference between a bioweapons facility and one that’s doing research”.