As CheckNews (the fact-checking service of our Liberation colleagues, editor’s note) detailed it in a previous article: Ukrainian and Georgian labs – partners of a US program to combat biological risks – have been proposed by Russia for years as biological production sites for weapons. And this, while several of these sites have been opened to Russian inspection, or have partnered with Russian investigators. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began, the Kremlin claimed that documents validating this claim had been found in these famous labs.
On March 10, Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian armed forces for protection against radiation, chemical and biological products, proposed the existence of a project “whose aim was to investigate the potential for the spread of particularly dangerous infections via migratory birds, in particular the highly pathogenic influenza H5N1, whose fatality to humans can be as high as 50%, as well as Newcastle disease”. He also claimed to have proof “of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) leadership role in funding and conducting military biological research in Ukraine”.
Allegations made public without evidence
On March 12, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, in turn, said that US-funded Ukrainian researchers “had investigated the possibility of pathogens being transmitted by wild birds migrating between Russia and Ukraine, as well as other neighboring countries.” In these statements, Russian officials cite projects called “P444” and “UP-4” and the fact that the incriminating documents against the United States will be made public soon.
The announcement was picked up in various Russian media. “The United States was working to create a powerful biological weapon. The aim of the project was to spread particularly dangerous infections through migratory birds”can we already on March 10 in the Pravda†
However, the evidence for these allegations has yet to be made public. The reason may be rather prosaic: the projects mentioned by the Russian authorities are already known to the scientific community, as they were the subject of publications in specialized journals in 2016 or 2018. This work, which concerns the sequencing of viruses carried by migratory birds, explicitly mention the financial support of the DTRA, the biological threat reduction program of the United States Department of Defense.
Some of these publications also indicate in black and white that this research is linked to the “P444” program. The affiliation of Ukrainian researchers to DTRA’s UP-4 project is mentioned in several online documents, which list the full name of the project: “Risk assessment of some particularly dangerous pathogens potentially carried by migratory birds over Ukraine”. The project is also listed on the website of the US Embassy in Ukraine.
No evidence to suggest intentional distribution
In fact, the DTRA, contacted by CheckNewsconfirms the existence of this work and their participation in its funding. “The UP-4 project, involving four entities from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, involved training Ukrainian personnel in the safe and humane collection of samples from wild birds, to identify pathogens that affect Ukrainian poultry flocks. could harm, or spread to human populations,” details of the agency.
“Researchers analyzed the spread of zoonoses from infected wild birds and determined the impact on poultry populations. The project quantified the associated risks through the use of mapping techniques, and enabled Ukraine to direct protective means to fight the Newcastle disease viruses.” and prevent bird flu, reducing the risk of disease in Ukraine”, add the DTRA . please† And to insist that all this research “were held openly, presented publicly and eventually resulted in the publication of the results online in scientific journals.”
There is therefore currently no element to indicate that the projects to study migratory fauna, which are questioned by the Russian authorities, are related to a project for the deliberate spread of pathogens.
In contrast, this fear of using migratory birds for military purposes reflects authentic Smithonian Institute research in the mid-1960s. Washington Post had documented that research on bird migration in the Pacific Islands was funded by the military, with a dual purpose: to identify sites where biological experiments could be conducted without the risk of spreading avian pathogens and, conversely, to identify migratory routes that conducive to attacks in hostile territory. In June 1970, the program was permanently discontinued.