US media is reporting that Russian propaganda about bogus ‘bioweapon’ labs in Ukraine is copy-pasted almost directly from years of similar fake stories that Kremlin trolls have used to try and discredit legitimate biological research in Georgia and Kazakhstan. According to a report by the Daily Beast:
March 18, 2022 Since it launched a new invasion of Ukraine, Russia has scrambled to come up with a better narrative to justify its aggression than the “denazification” of a government run by the Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors. The story Russia has settled on—Ukraine is cooking up secret biological weapons—is worse than nonsense. It’s a rerun. The propaganda about bogus biolab work put out by the Kremlin over the past few days is copy-pasted almost directly from years of similar nonsense stories that covert Kremlin trolls have used to try and discredit legitimate biological research in other former Soviet republics. Before Russia’s invasion, the objects of Moscow’s biolab ire were the so-called Lugar Labs in Georgia and Kazakhstan. The labs, named for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction legislation passed with the help of former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, were part of an effort to give steady, rewarding work to former Soviet scientists with experience in weapons of mass destruction-adjacent fields, so they wouldn’t be forced to offer their services to potential weapons programs in rogue states. Insofar as the labs kept scientists working on things other than weapons programs, they were a success in the Defense Department’s eyes. The Kremlin, however, looked at them differently. Rather than a welcome nonproliferation effort, the Russian government has treated them as a hostile source of American influence in what Moscow considers its own sphere of influence.
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The Daily Beast report notes that the Kremlin’s propaganda has long leveraged data allegedly stolen in hacks to serve its interests. In most cases, disinformation trolls have cited nonexistent hacks from fake hacktivist groups to spread lies.
Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, have a long history of bioweapons-related disinformation. According to a recent study, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China in January 2020 prompted a greatly expanded Russian-government bioweapons-related disinformation effort. According to the paper’s extract:
October 21, 2021 From 1949 until 1988, the Soviet Union conducted a nearly continuous campaign of false allegations of biological-weapon (BW) use by the United States. In 1995, senior Russian military officials revived this pattern of false allegations, which continues to the present day. Russian officials amplified the campaign after the US government funded the transformation of former Soviet BW facilities in the Commonwealth of Independent States under the Nunn–Lugar program. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in China in January 2020 prompted a very greatly expanded Russian-government BW-related disinformation effort. This paper aims to present a reasonably comprehensive account of these activities and to assess their significance. The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated open disdain for both the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Read the full paper here.
The Global Influence Operations Report recently reported on Russian claims that the United States was developing biological weapons in a network of labs in Ukraine. These claims have been echoed not only by Chinese officials but also amplified by QAnon conspiracy theorists and conservative American political figures, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr., A recent report by the Daily Beast highlights how US conservative and conspiratorial influencers have contributed to this Russian disinformation campaign.