The World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy ‘high-threat pathogens’ in the country’s public health laboratories in order to prevent “any potential spills” that might infect the population during the Russian invasion, Reuters reports.
“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” said the UN agency.
The report comes after a tense back-and-forth between US and Russian officials over “dangerous” biolabs in the country – with Russia, and then China, accusing the US military of involvement in Ukraine’s biolabs.
On Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova repeated a longstanding claim that the United States operates a biowarfare lab in Ukraine, an accusation that has been repeatedly denied by Washington and Kyiv.Zakharova said that documents unearthed by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “an emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programmes” by destroying lab samples. -Reuters
The US has denied the allegations – issuing (among other things) a Thursday statement that “The United States does not have chemical or biological weapons labs in Ukraine,” adding that America “does not develop or possess chemical and biological weapons anywhere.”
FACT: The United States does not have chemical and biological weapons labs in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/cB9ZrH8vCo
— Department of State (@StateDept) March 10, 2022
On Tuesday, US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland acknowledged that Ukraine “has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of. 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.”
Nuland’s answer made clear that whatever is inside Ukraine’s biolabs is a serious concern, however it should be noted that there’s no public evidence of bioweapons, nor did the WHO statement make reference to biowarfare – which is a separate issue from whether the laboratories contained, or contain, dangerous pathogens which could be used in a bioweapon.
In response to Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s Wednesday claim that the US is operating a biowarfare lab in Ukraine, a Ukrainian presidential spokesperson said: “Ukraine strictly denies any such allegation.”
The UN Security Council will convene on Friday at Russia’s request to discuss the claims.
Russia Calls For UN Security Council Meeting Over “Biological Activities” In Ukraine
Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, said in a Twitter post on March 10:
“Russian Mission asked for a meeting of #SecurityCouncil for 11 March to discuss the military biological activities of the US on the territory of #Ukraine.”
Reuters reported that diplomats have indicated the U.N. Security Council will convene on Friday, March 11, to discuss Moscow’s claims of U.S. biological activities in Ukraine.
Late on March 9, the United States denied Russian accusations that Washington is running labs in Ukraine geared toward developing bioweapons.
Russia on March 8 repeated its longstanding accusations the United States is working with Ukrainian laboratories to develop biological weapons.
The United States and Ukraine maintain that the laboratories seek to prevent bioweapons and pathogens, not develop them. Ukraine, like many other countries, has public health laboratories researching how to minimize the threats of dangerous diseases affecting humans and animals.
Fact sheets featured on the U.S. Embassy of Ukraine website, found via Internet Archive, link to several documents detailing what appears to be U.S. government investments for select laboratories in Ukraine.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on March 8 said Ukraine has “biological research facilities” and the United States is working to prevent Russians from taking control of them.
In a statement released on March 9, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia “is inventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.”
Separately, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that it “has strongly recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills.”