Washington warned this week that Russians could plan a biological or chemical attack in Ukraine, in response to Moscow’s claims that Russian armed forces obtained evidence of US-sponsored research as well as calls for American officials to come clean.
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Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday night said Kiev was urgently attempting to cover up the traces of military biological programs, noting the research had been financed by the US Department of Defense.
US State Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland confirmed there were “biological research facilities” in Ukraine during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing.
“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 said.
Senator Marco Rubio, who described Zakharova’s accusations as “Russian propaganda,” went on to ask Nuland “of there is a biological or chemical weapon incident or attack inside of Ukraine, is there any doubt in your mind that 100 percent, it would be the Russians that would be behind it?”
“There is no doubt in my mind, senator. And it is classic Russian technique to blame on the other guy what they're planning to do themselves,” Nuland responded.
Zakharova said Russian armed forces obtained documents from employees of Ukraine's biological labs suggesting "components of bioweapons were being developed in Ukraine," adding that such activities violate the Biological Weapons Convention.
"Your research, your biological materials, particularly used for military purposes, turned up in Ukraine in the first place. What were you doing there? It is another continent, you don’t share a common border and there are no bases of yours," the spokeswoman said, referring to Americans.
Zakharova suggested Moscow did not know what had happened to biological materials, whether they were removed from the labs or destroyed.
"Who was in charge of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine for many years? Remember, right? From which country did this wonderful doctor come? Who headed the Ukrainian Ministry of Health? I remember very well, from the American continent," Zakharova said.
Moscow’s spokeswoman was referring to Ulana Supru, a Ukrainian-American physician who obtained citizenship in July 2016 and oversaw Ukraine’s health ministry until 2019.
Washington points finger at Moscow
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday denied Moscow’s claims, saying “the Russian accusations are absurd, they are laughable and you know, in the words of my Irish Catholic grandfather, a bunch of malarkey. There's nothing to it. It's classic Russian propaganda.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also fired back, writing on Twitter that it is “Russia that has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons, including in attempted assassinations and poisoning of Putin’s political enemies like Alexey Navalny."
Zakharova did not immediately respond to Psaki but Moscow has denied carrying out an attack on Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist.
Back in 2018 Russia’s Defense Ministry accused the US of running a clandestine biological weapons lab in Georgia, drawing yet another angry reaction from the Pentagon.