U.S. officials: Biological research facilities in Ukraine are not bioweapons labs

"Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops and Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of," said Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.

Updated: March 14, 2022 - 11:06pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

As the controversy over biological research laboratories in Ukraine continues, U.S. defense and intelligence officials have made it clear that the biological research facilities in Ukraine are not biological weapons labs.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has said that U.S. intelligence agencies are not aware of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program within Ukraine, despite a narrative that the Kremlin has been pushing.

"We do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing either biological weapons or nuclear weapons, which have been some of the, basically, propaganda that Russia is putting out," Haines said during a Senate hearing on Thursday. "We've seen no evidence of that, and frankly, this influence campaign is completely consistent with long-standing Russian efforts to accuse the United States of sponsoring bioweapons work in the former Soviet Union."

Under questioning from Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Haines said these biological research labs in Ukraine have "equipment or pathogens or other things that you have to have restrictions around because you want to make sure that they're being treated and handled appropriately."

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was asked if Ukraine has chemical or biological weapons.

"Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops and Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of," Nuland said. "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 State Department later clarified that Nuland was not referring to biological weapons facilities but rather "diagnostic and biodefense laboratories."

There are currently five "biological research laboratories in Kyiv that Ukraine has declared as part of the [Biological Weapons Convention] Confidence Building Measures," according to U.S. Department of Defense officials. The work at these facilities "focuses on diagnostics, therapeutics, treatments, prevention, vaccines, beneficial efforts."

A  senior defense official said the employees at these labs are "looking at pathogens that infect humans and animals with an emphasis on those that are endemic to Ukraine, Anthrax, tularemia, tuberculosis, botulism, classic swine fever, Crimean hemorrhagic fever, avian flu, those types of things."

The official was asked if the U.S. government has ever sent people to help the research labs with training and biological safety measures.

"I know we certainly have contributed funds, but whether we've had people in Ukraine physically over the past few years to help with their management, I don't know," the official responded during a briefing with reporters, according to a DOD transcript. "So, I don't want to guess."

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that despite information floating around online "there is no evidence of any kind of Ukrainian bioweapons laboratory" but there are "research laboratories, everywhere."

Warner was asked if the U.S. is involved somehow with the biological research labs in Ukraine.

"To my knowledge, the U.S. is not involved at all," Warner said. 

Tulsi Gabbard, former Democrat congresswoman and presidential candidate, said on social media that there are "25+ US-funded biolabs in Ukraine, which if breached would release & spread deadly pathogens to US/world.”

She called for the sites to be secured during the Russian invasion to prevent new pandemics.

In response, Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted on Sunday that Gabbard is "parroting false Russian propaganda" and "her treasonous lies may well cost lives."

Gabbard, a veteran of the U.S. Army, called on Romney to publicly provide evidence to support his claim that she made "treasonous" public comments about Ukraine or resign from Congress.

"Senator Romney, please provide evidence that what I said is untrue and treasonous," she posted. "If you cannot, you should do the honorable thing: apologize and resign from the Senate."

She argued that the "evidence of the existence of such biolabs, their vulnerability, and thus the need to take immediate action to secure them is beyond dispute."