Hat tip to Senator Marco Rubio for bringing attention to this matter during a hearing with Victoria Nuland as the witness affirming the existence of several questionable locations in Ukraine. However, it has now brought media globally into the matter especially Russia where Moscow is accusing the United States of using chemical weapons in this Russia/Ukraine military conflict. (remember Syria)
Additionally, Russia has a nefarious history with deadly agents as noted below in part:
Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader in Russia, was hospitalized in August after being purportedly poisoned by a substance that German officials later determined to be the Novichok nerve agent. The same substance was implicated in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the U.K in 2018, the same year the Russian Defense Ministry issued claims that the U.S. was running a secret biological weapons program at the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, another former Soviet state with a history of conflict with Russia and facing Moscow-aligned separatists along the border.
The knowledge and operations in Ukraine relating to bio-weapons is not a new condition. In fact, it has under the management of the U.S. Department of Defense since 2005. Found on the U.S. State Department website is the agreement between Ukraine and the United States to protect and mitigate any threat of bio-weapons and anything related to infectious diseases. Read the document here.
Then in 2010, there was more attention on those facilities:
U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar applauded the opening of the Interim Central Reference Laboratory in Odessa, Ukraine, this week, announcing that it will be instrumental in researching dangerous pathogens used by bioterrorists.
The level-3 bio-safety lab, which is the first built under the expanded authority of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, will be used to study anthrax, tularemia and Q fever as well as other dangerous pathogens.
“The continuing cooperation of Nunn-Lugar partners has improved safety for all people against weapons of mass destruction and potential terrorist use, in addition to advancements in the prevention of pandemics and public health consequences,” Lugar said.
Lugar said plans for the facility began in 2005 when he and then Senator Barack Obama entered a partnership with Ukrainian officials. Lugar and Obama also helped coordinate efforts between the U.S and Ukrainian researchers that year in an effort to study and help prevent avian flu.
The Nunn-Lugar Act, which established the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, was established in 1991. Since that time it has provided funding and assistance to help the former Soviet Union dismantle and safeguard large stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The program has also been responsible for destroying chemical weapons in Albania, Lugar said.
U.S. cooperation with Ukraine under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program was expanded Aug. 29 with an agreement to use U.S. CTR funds to improve security for pathogens stored at biological research and health facilities in the former Soviet republic.
Under the agreement, CTR funds will for the first time flow directly to projects aimed at securing pathogen strains and sensitive biological knowledge within Ukraine. The United States also will work to improve Ukrainian capabilities to detect, diagnose, and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases, as well as determine whether outbreaks are natural or the result of bioterrorism.
The agreement was signed during the visit to Kiev of a high-level U.S. delegation led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
Among the facilities in Ukraine intended to receive security upgrades are those once linked to the Soviet-era anti-plague network, which continue to store libraries of naturally occuring pathogens for the purposes of research and public health. Andy Fisher, spokesperson for Lugar, told Arms Control Today on Sept. 15 the anti-plague facilities “were threats and they are threats,” given the risk that poor security could allow terrorists access to pathogens. Fisher also cited the possibility that outdated operating procedures and equipment could result in the unintentional leakage of pathogens from these facilities, endangering the public health of the region.
Cooperation under the new agreement will not be limited to physical security over pathogens. Funds also will be available for the peaceful employment of scientists whose skills and financial insecurity could render them potential targets for states or independent groups looking to acquire bioweapons capabilities. In addition, the agreement includes provisions for cooperation between U.S. and Ukrainian epidemiological laboratories in diagnosing disease outbreaks. Toward that end, pathogens from Ukrainian health and research facilities will be shared with U.S. partner laboratories. Under a CTR agreement with Azerbaijan, the United States last month also received a transfer of pathogens from similar facilities in that former Soviet republic.
As a first step toward implementation of the agreement, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) will conduct an assessment of biological facilities in Ukraine to determine what sites will receive assistance. Funds within the current DTRA budget will cover the assessment phase; additional implementation funds could be appropriated in fiscal year 2007 and beyond. As the Aug. 29 agreement falls under the established CTR framework, neither Congress nor the Ukrainian Rada will need to provide further authorization before implementation begins.
Negotiations on the Aug. 29 agreement spanned more than a year. One administration official who requested anonymity told Arms Control Today that inter-Ukrainian political and bureaucratic hurdles were surmounted by a combination of strong U.S.-Ukrainian relations and the presence of the high-level U.S. delegation. A press release from Lugar’s office specifically credited then-Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko with breaking a “log jam within Ukrainian government bureaucracy.”
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