Coinciding with the failure to make progress in Ukraine at the military and foreign policy levels, Russia escalated its rhetoric against the United States, accusing it of deploying laboratories for the manufacture of biological weapons in Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Defence said that a huge US project was launched in Ukraine to develop prohibited weapons, which was implemented with the participation of laboratories in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odessa. The Defence Ministry said that the Pentagon showed interest in the insects that carry the infection during experiments in Ukraine, and more than 140 containers of fleas and ticks were transferred abroad from the biological laboratory in Kharkiv, just before Russian forces approached the area.
On the other hand, the administration of US President Joe Biden denied these allegations, accusing Russia of trying to find an excuse to use internationally prohibited weapons in its quest to subjugate Ukraine. The White House said the Russian claim was “preposterous” and could be part of Russia’s attempt to legitimize the war against Ukraine. The State Department said that Russia has a long and well-documented record of using chemical weapons, including assassination attempts and poisoning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political enemies such as Alexei Navalny.
The only truth amid this torrent of mutual accusations between Russia and the United States is that biological warfare is the most dangerous type of war ever, as it threatens the annihilation of humanity as a whole. This war relies on the deliberate use of germs, microbes, or viruses to spread deadly diseases and epidemics, which leads to the killing and extermination of large numbers of people, and the destruction of life in a specific range.
The most dangerous characteristic of biological weapons is the low cost of their production compared to conventional or nuclear weapons, which require high technological costs and equipment. Biological weapons require only a minimum level of scientific knowledge, a microbiological laboratory, and some equipment needed for production, but the risk escalates once they are manufactured, as they require a high degree of insurance during and after manufacturing and storage.
It is also possible to produce huge quantities of the biological element, considering that a single cell of a microbe is able in a limited time and under the right conditions to multiply to a terrible degree, which enables the formation of a huge stock of a microbe within several hours. Today, we are greatly aware of the ferocity of this war and the inability of the world to confront it, especially in the wake of the Corona epidemic crisis, which killed millions of people and many believe that it is a virus that was created.
Indeed, the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxic weapons. This convention has been signed by 165 countries, including all the great powers. It is also a supplement to the Geneva Protocol of 1925. However, this agreement is not an effective means of preventing the development of biological weapons. The Convention has many shortcomings, the most important of which is that it does not have an implementing body, nor does it have a mechanism to verify compliance or alleged violations. Most importantly, both the Soviet Union and the USA have a long history of violating this agreement.
In the Soviet Union, for example, in the early 1990s, defectors working in the former Soviet Union’s program alleged that it was carrying out a large-scale clandestine biological weapons program in violation of the Geneva Protocol and the Convention. This was later confirmed by the leadership of the Russian Federation, which ordered the end of all offensive biological weapons programs in 1992.
Also in 2012 Harvard University released a book entitled “The History of the Soviet Biological Weapons Program” confirming the former Soviet Union’s possession of a biological weapons arsenal that cost many billions. This book also confirms that the Soviets used their people as guinea pigs to produce their biological weapons during the civil war that broke out in the period between 1918 and 1921. The importance of this book lies in the fact that it makes the minds immediately recall the possibilities of the Soviet Union, many of which are still in the hands of Russia today. This is especially in the light of Putin’s declaration before his war on Ukraine that he has weapons “of no equal” in the world.
As for the United States of America, it had the greatest impact in violating and even undermining the Biological Weapons Convention. In the 1990s several attempts were made to negotiate a protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention to address its major shortcomings and establish a mechanism for monitoring and ensuring implementation by signatory states. But these attempts collapsed in 2001 when the United States of America at the time withdrew its support for making this convention more effective, which confirms the involvement of the United States in developing biological weapons despite its continuous denial of this fact.
In addition, the USA has a long and disgraceful history of conducting biological experiments on humans. According to research, the US biological weapons program began during World War II. But the first real public test didn’t happen until 1950, when the US Navy carried out Operation Sea-Spray and sprayed the coast of San Francisco, California, with the toxic Serratia marcescens bacteria that caused 11 people to be hospitalized and one death.
One of the most controversial tests was also conducted in 1966 on the New York subway, in which scientists filled light bulbs with bacteria and then smashed them on the tracks. The bacteria traveled for miles around the subway system, where thousands of civilians inhaled it.
In 1997, the National Research Council revealed that the United States had also used chemicals to test biological weapons potential in the 1950s, when the zinc cadmium sulfide was dispersed by plane and sprayed over several cities, including St. Louis in Missouri and Minneapolis in Minnesota. These cities were chosen because they were similar to Soviet targets such as Moscow in terms of terrain, weather, and population.
Moreover, in 2008, the US Government Accountability Office acknowledged that tens of thousands of civilians may have been exposed to biological agents due to Project 112 and other tests. And in 2019, the US magazine “Science” revealed that the US government had quietly resumed testing the bird flu virus.
The present moment is a defining period, and it will certainly result in a change in the balance of power that will inevitably come. But the question now is how many human lives will pay for this change. This is especially so since all the forces involved will not hesitate to use any means possible to win this battle.
Dr. Marwa El-Shinawy: Assistant Prof. at International American University for Specialized Studies (IAUS)