The World Health Organization has advised officials in Ukraine to destroy any high-risk pathogens housed in public health laboratories in order to prevent their release amid the Russian onslaught, according to a report by Reuters.
The agency said that it has worked with Ukrainian officials for years to promote security practices at its laboratories to prevent “accidental or deliberate release of pathogens.” As part of that longstanding 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,” the agency said in an email to Reuters. The WHO did not clarify when it made that recommendation or if it was carried out.
The news follows Senate testimony on Tuesday by Victoria Nuland, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, who said that the US is “quite concerned” that Russian troops will seek out Ukraine’s biological research laboratories to seize control of any potentially dangerous samples.
“Ukraine has biological research facilities, which in fact we are now quite concerned [that] Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of,” Nuland said in the hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “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.”
The concerns come as Russia and China have amplified allegations, without evidence, that the US runs laboratories developing biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. US officials fear the talk is an “obvious ploy” by Russia to try to justify invading Ukraine and possibly a “false flag operation” to use biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine.
“It is classic Russian technique to blame… the other guy [for] what they’re planning to do themselves,” Nuland said Tuesday.
In a statement released Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the claims by Russia and Chinese officials “preposterous” and “disinformation.”
While reporting that the US does not possess or develop biological or chemical weapons anywhere, Psaki noted that Russia has a long history of using chemical weapons against foes, including the use of a Novichok nerve agent against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as well as former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal.
“This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” Psaki said. “Now that Russia has made these false claims and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or to create a false flag operation using them. It’s a clear pattern.”