UNITED NATIONS -- The U.S. and its Western allies on Thursday dismissed Russia’s claims that banned biological weapons activities are taking place in Ukraine with American support, calling the allegation disinformation and fabrications.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador said Moscow will pursue a U.N. investigation of its allegations that both countries are violating the convention prohibiting the use of biological weapons.
The dispute came in the third U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine-related issues that Russia has called since Tuesday. This one focused on a 310-page document that Russia circulated to council members this week alleging there is “military biological” activity in Ukraine with support of the U.S. Defense Department.
The document includes an official complaint to the council, allowed under Article VI of the 1972 biological weapons convention, and a draft resolution that would authorize the Security Council to set up a commission to address Russia’s claims.
Russia's allegation of secret American biological warfare labs in Ukraine has been disputed by independent scientists, Ukrainian leaders and officials at the White House and Pentagon. An Associated Press investigation in March found the claim was taking root online, uniting COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, QAnon adherents and some supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Ukraine does have a network of biological labs that have gotten funding and research support from the U.S. They are owned and operated by Ukraine and are part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Program that aims to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks, whether natural or manmade. The U.S. efforts date back to work in the 1990s to dismantle the former Soviet Union’s program for weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Thursday’s meeting “a colossal waste of time,” rejected Russia’s allegation as “pure fabrications brought forth without a shred of evidence.” She said the claim is part of a Moscow “disinformation campaign” that is attempting “to distract from the atrocities Russian forces are carrying out in Ukraine and a desperate tactic to justify an unjustifiable war.”
“Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program,” she said. “The United States does not have a biological weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States.”
British Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the council that since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine it “has repeatedly spread disinformation, including wild claims involving dirty bombs, chemical weapons and offensive biological research.”
“How much more of this nonsense do we have to endure?” she asked.
Norway’s ambassador, Mona Juul, said: “The sole purpose of these false allegations is to provide a smoke screen … that’s sowing confusion and drawing attention from Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and brutal warfare in Ukraine.”
French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere condemned “this umpteenth attempt made by Russia to make us forget that it is violating the United Nations Charter” and accused Moscow of again “using the Security Council as a propaganda platform.”
Other council members including China and India focused on a key problem with the biological weapons convention: Unlike the convention banning the use of chemical weapons, it has no provision to verify compliance and investigate complaints.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Geng Shuang, urged a late November conference of the 197 state parties to the convention to restart verification negotiations “that have been stalled for more than 20 years."
Last month, the state parties met at Russia’s request on the activities at biological laboratories in Ukraine, but a final report said it wasn’t possible to reach consensus.
Adedeji Ebo, the U.N. deputy high representative for disarmament, told the council that this was the first time Article VI of the convention had been invoked with a complaint to the Security Council.
He repeated statements in March and May that the United Nation “is not aware of any such biological weapons programs” and “currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information.”
But Ebo said: “Should the council initiate an investigation, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs stands ready to support it.”
In his briefing, Russia’s Nebenzia accused the U.S. of conducting work in Ukraine with deadly pathogens — including cholera, plague, anthrax and influenza — that couldn’t be justified under the guise of public health. He said documents and evidence recovered by Russian authorities suggested a military application.
Nebenzia said the Russian military had recovered drones capable of spraying bioagents as well as documents that he said related to research on the possibility of spreading pathogens through bats and migrating birds.
Thomas-Greenfield called Russia’s claims “absurd for many reasons, including because such species, even if they could be weaponized, would pose as much a threat to the European continent and to Ukraine itself as they would to any other country.”
Nebenzia took the floor for a second time at the end of the meeting, saying Western ambassadors routinely accuse Russia of sounding “a false alarm,” disseminating “disinformation” and distracting the Security Council from discussing more important issues. At the same time, he said, “our Western colleagues have nothing to say on the substance" of Russia's claims.
He said Russia will move ahead on the resolution calling for a Security Council investigation. He said a second meeting of council experts is the next step, “and then we will be deciding when we’ll put it to the Security Council.”
Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this report.