United States government-funded laboratories in Ukraine don’t produce biological weapons or conduct dangerous research, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
“Let me be clear, we do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing either biological weapons or nuclear weapons, which have been some of the propaganda that Russia is putting out,” Haines told the senators.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pressed her further to clarify what the government does in terms of biological research programs.
“So as I understand it, Ukraine operates about a little over a dozen biolabs, and what they are involved in is Ukraine’s biodefense and their public health response, and that’s essentially what they’re intended to do,” she responded.
In addition to assisting Ukrainian laboratories with “biosafety” and “biodefense,” the U.S. government has also done so for other countries, Haines said.
“Classic” Russian propaganda,” said the intelligence director. “Ukraine is not trying to make biological weapons or nuclear weapons.”
“But again, I want to be absolutely clear that we do not believe that Ukraine is pursuing biological or nuclear weapons, that we’ve seen no evidence of that,” she said.
“And frankly, this influence campaign is completely consistent with longstanding Russian efforts to accuse the United States of sponsoring bioweapons work in the former Soviet Union. So this is a classic move by the Russians,” she added.
Rubio, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pointed out that the world is “coming off the trauma of COVID-19.”
The Republicans have been demanding more information about the origins of the COVID pandemic, with a special focus on a laboratory in Wuhan, China. The Wuhan Institute of Virology received funding from the U.S. government to conduct research in the city where the pandemic originated.
In Ukraine, the Pentagon biological program’s priorities are “to consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern and to continue to ensure Ukraine can detect and report outbreaks caused by dangerous pathogens before they pose security or stability threats,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine website.
According to the embassy, the Pentagon program has built a pair of labs in Ukraine at the “biosafety level 2” of security, the level required to handle diseases such as HIV. And the program has helped upgrade safety levels at other Ukrainian biological facilities and has set up mobile COVID-19 response labs.
Russians have long argued that U.S.-sponsored laboratories are building biological and chemical weapons.
On The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that the Kremlin has documents showing that the Ukrainian health ministry ordered the destruction of samples of plague, cholera, anthrax, and other pathogens before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In statements released on Wednesday, the White House, Defense Department, and State Department all rejected the Russian claims.
Moreover, a United Nations spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said Wednesday that the World Health Organization is “unaware of any activity on the part of the Ukrainian government which is inconsistent with its international treaty obligations, including on chemical weapons or biological weapons.”
On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Now, let me be clear, we do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing either biological weapons or nuclear weapons,” and she said statements to the contrary are just Russian “propaganda.”
Haines was asked to clarify a statement made by a State Department official regarding U.S. concerns about the release of materials from these labs by Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the committee. It might appear that these laboratories store biological weapons, according to Rubio. It is not about biological weapons but rather about potentially hazardous materials.
Additionally, the Russians suggest the Ukrainians may use chemical weapons and blame Moscow for it.