The United States has denied Russian claims that Washington is operating biowarfare laboratories in Ukraine, calling the allegations â€œpreposterousâ€ and warning that Moscow might seek to use chemical or biological weapons during its ongoing offensive on its neighbouring country.
The US denial on Wednesday came hours after Russia renewed its accusations that Washington was working with Kyiv to develop biological weapons in the vicinity of the Ukraine-Russia border.
Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, called the Russian claim â€œpreposterousâ€ in a series of posts on Twitter and said it was Moscow â€œthat has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weaponsâ€.
These included the â€œattempted assassinations and poisoning ofâ€ Russian President Vladimir Putinâ€™s political enemies like the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, she said.
Now that Russia has made these claims, she added, â€œWe 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.â€
This is preposterous. Itâ€™s the kind of disinformation operation weâ€™ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.
â€” Jen Psaki (@PressSec) March 9, 2022
The US Department of State and the Pentagon also denounced the Russian claims.
In a statement, Ned Price, spokesperson for the Department of State, accused Russia of â€œinventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraineâ€ and said Washington was â€œin full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhereâ€.
John Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson, called the Russian accusations â€œabsurdâ€, â€œlaughableâ€, and a â€œbunch of malarkeyâ€.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing to it. Itâ€™s classic Russian propaganda,â€ he told reporters.
The US officials also accused China of â€œechoingâ€ Moscowâ€™s â€œconspiracy theoriesâ€.
Ukraine has also rejected the Russian claims, with a spokesperson for President Volodymyr Zelenskky saying Kyiv â€œstrictly denies any such allegationâ€.
There was no immediate response from Moscow.
Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry had called on Washington to reveal information about what she called its illegal activities in Ukraine.
Maria Zakharova said Russia had documents showing the Ukrainian health ministry had ordered the destruction of samples of plague, cholera, anthrax and other pathogens before February 24, when Russian forces moved into Ukraine.
Zakharova said the documents unearthed by Russian forces in Ukraine showed â€œan emergency attempt to erase evidence of military biological programmesâ€ financed by the Pentagon.
â€œIt can be concluded that components of biological weapons were being developed in Ukrainian biolabs located in close vicinity of our border,â€ she said. â€œThe emergency destruction of dangerous pathogens on February 24 was a necessary step aimed at concealing the fact that Ukraine and the US had violated Article 1 of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.â€
She provided no further details on the documents.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry meanwhile on Tuesday said the â€œUS has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine aloneâ€. It also called on the US to â€œgive a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad and subject itself to multilateral verificationâ€.
Chinese Foreign Ministry: “The US has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine alone. It should give a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad and subject itself to multilateral verification.”pic.twitter.com/SP4lBq83Um
â€” æ›¹ æ¯… CAO Yi Ø£Ø¨Ùˆ ÙˆØ³ÙŠÙ… (@CaoYi_MFA) March 8, 2022
When asked about the Russian and Chinese claims, a spokesperson for the United Nations said the global body has â€œno information to confirmâ€ reports â€œabout these kinds of labsâ€.
â€œOur colleagues at the World Health Organization who have been working with the Ukrainian Governments said they are 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,â€ said Stephane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson.
Ukraine has previously said it, like many other countries, hasÂ public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans.
Those laboratories have received support from the US, European Union and the World Health Organization, while the Pentagonâ€™s Biological Threat Reduction Program has also been working with the Ukrainian government to ensure the security of pathogens and toxins stored in the laboratories.
A former US official, who is familiar with the cooperation between Kyiv and Washington, told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the US had helped to convert several Ukrainian laboratories that had been involved in the former Soviet Unionâ€™s biological weapons programme into public health facilities.
Separately on Tuesday, Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs of the US, told a congressional hearing that Ukraine has biological research facilities and that she was â€œquite concerned that Russian troops may be seeking to gain control of those labsâ€.
â€œSo we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of the Russian forces,â€ she added.