Social media post: China: U.S. has biological weapons labs in Ukraine.
PolitiFact’s ruling: False
Here’s why: China’s government is amplifying debunked claims about non-existent U.S. biological weapons labs in Ukraine, bringing the falsehoods back into the spotlight on social media.
A March 9 post on Instagram describes remarks from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who said on March 9 that the U.S. has such biolabs in Ukraine.
The post is a screenshot of Zhao at a podium with text that says, “China urges Pentagon to disclose alleged ‘biolabs’ in Ukraine ‘as soon as possible.’” The text also says, “Beijing believes the laboratories in Ukraine are just the ‘tip of an iceberg,’” and the U.S. controls 336 biological laboratories in 30 countries around the world.
A caption on the post reads, “Russia found over 30 biological labs (with evidence of bioweapons) in Ukraine formed by the Pentagon in areas bordering Russia. If true, this is more than a bit concerning.”
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.
Following Zhao’s remarks, U.S. government officials said unequivocally that the U.S. does not have biolabs in Ukraine. The claims distort U.S. government support of Ukraine’s public health laboratories that research infectious diseases.
Zhao’s remarks were posted March 9 in a video on Twitter. According to the English translation, he said, “Presently the U.S. biological labs in Ukraine have indeed attracted much attention. According to reports, in these facilities a large quantity of dangerous viruses are stored. Russia has found during its military operations that the U.S. uses these facilities to conduct military plans. According to data released by the U.S., it has 26 labs in Ukraine.”
But the U.S. is “not developing biological or chemical weapons inside Ukraine. It’s not happening,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during a March 9 press briefing.
And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter on March 9 that Chinese officials were echoing conspiracy theories from Russia.
“The United States is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention and does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere,” Psaki wrote.
Andy Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, is now a board member of the Arms Control Association Board, a nonprofit that advocates for effective arms control policies on a global scale.
Weber said the U.S. Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has provided technical support to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health since 2005 to improve its public health laboratories, whose mission is analogous to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Work by these labs has been instrumental in stemming the spread of COVID-19.
The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program began after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to reduce the threat of existing weapons of mass destruction. It is also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program (named after the senators who passed the Soviet Threat Reduction Act) and is housed within the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation.
In the wake of disinformation about these labs, the Department of Defense released a video attempting to explain their work. All the labs in the program are “owned, operated and manned by host governments to meet local needs,” it said.
Psaki warned March 9 that the claims by Russia and China appear to be falsely laying the groundwork to justify further violence: “Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we 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. It’s a clear pattern.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese government said the U.S. has biolabs in Ukraine.
The claim originated with the Russian government and has been previously debunked by U.S. government officials and weapons control advocates. Following Zhao’s March 9 remarks, U.S. government officials strongly refuted the claims again, saying the false narrative was being used to lay the groundwork for further violence in Ukraine.
- Foreign Policy, “False Claims of U.S. Biowarfare Labs in Ukraine Grip QAnon,” March 2, 2022
- Instagram post, March 9, 2022
- PolitiFact, “There are no US-run biolabs in Ukraine, contrary to social media posts,” Feb. 25, 2022
- Twitter post, March 9, 2022
- Twitter video, March 9, 2022
- U.S. Department of Defense, “Transcript: Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing,” March 9, 2022