Russia recently charged the Pentagon with expanding a network of biological weapons laboratories in Europe, a charge the State Department denies.
A new Russian national security strategy document describes the United States and NATO as threats and warns of the “uncertainty about instances of foreign states’ possession of biological weapons and their potential for developing and producing them.”
“The network of U.S. military-biological laboratories on the territory of states adjacent to Russia is being expanded,” says the strategy, made public Dec. 31.
U.S. officials and arms analysts said the Russian charge is false.
Blake Narendra, a spokesman for the State Department’s arms control, verification and compliance bureau, said the United States is in full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention, which bans production and stockpiling of germ weapons.
“The United States government supports public and animal health laboratories around the world whose mission it is to safely and securely detect and report the outbreaks of diseases,” Narendra told the Washington Free Beacon.
“There is no research or storage at these facilities involving biological or any other kind of weapon,” he said.
“Activities for peaceful purposes, to include the prevention of disease, are explicitly permitted under the BWC,” he continued, using an acronym for the Biological Weapons Convention.
Russian Embassy press spokesman Yury Melnik said the strategy does not accuse the United States of developing bioweapons.
“Paragraph 19 of the document mentions our concern related to the Pentagon’s bioactivities in neighboring countries,” Melnik said, noting a laboratory in the Republic of Georgia near Tbilisi.
“U.S. military professionals conduct research there,” he said.
Melnik said “press reports” did not specify identified Pentagon laboratories in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, West Africa and other states.
“That is obviously concerning,” Melnik said. “There is absolutely no transparency in U.S. biological activity abroad. Mere involvement of the military personnel raises questions whether [the] U.S. government’s actions are consistent with the BWC.”
Moscow’s charge appears based on Foreign Ministry accusations in June that the Pentagon is covertly researching the weaponization of diseases.
That claim, in a ministry statement, followed the disclosure in May that a Defense Department laboratory in Utah mistakenly sent live samples of anthrax, a contagious bacteria found in sheep and cattle that is deadly in humans, to numerous laboratories in the United States and several abroad.
The ministry stated that the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public and Animal Health Research, set up under the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program near Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, is a secret U.S. research facility.
“American and Georgian authorities are trying to cover up the real nature of this U.S. military unit, which studies highly dangerous infectious diseases,” the ministry said, according to state-run Russian press reports.
“The Pentagon is trying to establish similar covert medico-biological facilities in other countries [in Russia’s neighborhood],” the ministry said.
Those charges also appeared to be a Russian response to the State Department’s charges that Moscow is violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty with development of a new long-range cruise missile.
The State Department’s annual arms compliance report said Russia has not fully disclosed its past biological weapons programs.
During a House hearing in May 2014, Christopher Davis, a biological weapons expert and former member of the British Defense Intelligence Staff, testified that Russia covertly has maintained a biological arms program he called “the elephant in the room.”
“The elephant has remained in the room for 18 years, but just because we choose not to see him does not mean he is no longer there,” Davis said.
Davis stated that “Russia did not admit to the real size and capability of its biological weapons systems, that it did not get rid of all of them.”
According to Davis, Russian leader Vladimir Putin “like all his antecedents, would never give up such a key strategic military and diplomatic card.”
The Russians also have accused the U.S. government of undermining the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
A Pentagon report issued in July on the improper anthrax lab transfers stated that the samples are part of defense research into countering anthrax bioweapons. “It is critical for the department to have a strong countermeasures program to protect our warfighters against this dangerous organism,” the report said.
Former Pentagon strategic analyst Mark Schneider said the Russian assertions border on paranoia.
“The Russian claim of a ‘network of U.S. military-biological laboratories’ in NATO Europe is absurd and paranoid even by Russian standards,” Schneider said.
“We have not had an offensive biological weapons program since Richard Nixon,” he added.
Schneider said he agrees with the State Department that the claim is a distortion of the Threat Reduction program.
“Russian paranoia is dangerous,” Schneider said. “Overall, their new National Security Strategy signed by Putin on December 31, 2015, reads like a blueprint for a militaristic authoritarian state. NATO has finally recognized the significance of the Russian threat, particularly the Russian nuclear threat, but we are still doing little about it.”
The strategy also states that Russia’s “independent foreign and domestic policy” has prompted opposition for the United States and its allies that are “seeking to retain their dominance in world affairs.”
“The policy of containing Russia that they are implementing envisions the exertion of political, economic, military, and informational pressure on it,” the strategy says.
Russia has annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and is covertly destabilizing eastern Ukraine. Additionally, Moscow is aggressively building up its nuclear forces while Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have issued unprecedented threats to use nuclear arms against NATO and the United States.
Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the biological weapons claims contained in the Russian strategy document may seem bizarre, “but for Russia’s rulers, such threats seem real.”
Felgenhauer wrote in a report Jan. 7 that Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Kremlin security council, alleged in October that U.S. “bio-war labs” had increased “20-fold,” and that the Pentagon is “deploying bio-weapon production labs in some [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries.”
“Today, Putin has underwritten into law these and other similar threat evaluations,” he stated in a report published by the Jamestown Foundation. “Russian countermeasures are surely forthcoming.”
The strategy “correctly reflects the overall Kremlin notion of Russia being besieged on all sides by the U.S. and its proxies, which purportedly seek to isolate, subvert, and cause internal political and social upheaval to bring about regime change in other countries,” Felgenhauer stated.
“In turn, Putin’s Russia is ready to defy and push back on all fronts — in Syria, in Ukraine, in the Arctic — and by all means available.”