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SC/14835
18 March 2022
8999th Meeting (AM)

United Nations ‘Not Aware of Any Biological Weapons Programme in Ukraine’, Disarmament Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

Delegate Calls Moscow’s Claims Nonsense, ‘Rehash of Amateurish Disinformation’

The United Nations is still not aware of any biological weapons programme being conducted in Ukraine, the senior disarmament official told the Security Council today, responding to fresh allegations by the Russian Federation of the existence of such research.

Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressed the Council at the outset of the emergency session, as several of its 15 members denounced the meeting as a “charade” and “not worthy of a permanent member of the Security Council”.

Referring to the Russian Federation’s circulation of fresh documents alleging the existence of biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, she said the United Nations has neither the mandate nor the capacity to investigate such allegations.  Reiterating her statement before the Council at a similar meeting on 11 March, she stressed that the United Nations is not aware of any such biological weapons programme in Ukraine (see Press Release SC/14827).  She added that both the Russian Federation and Ukraine are States parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.

The representative of the Russian Federation, outlining his delegation’s newly circulated documents, said evidence of dangerous biological weapons projects — carried out in Ukraine, and supported by the United States — was recently discovered in the course of his country’s special military operation.  On 11 March, when confronted by similar evidence, the delegate of the United States was not able to explain documented proof of a 2005 agreement signed between United States and Ukrainian ministers, which laid out support for joint biological research on Ukrainian territory.

Over the last week, he said, new details have come to light, namely that the components for biological weapons were being created on Ukrainian territory.  Citing proof of direct United States funding to Ukraine amounting to $32 million, he said the new documents refute United State assertions that it does not operate any biological laboratories in Ukraine.  “The facts show otherwise,” he said, noting that Ukrainian authorities gave the United States carte blanche to carry out dangerous experiments on its territory in return for free travel to international conferences.  Those included studies into Crimean-Congo Fever, leptospirosis and other dangerous pathogens, whose use could be easily dressed up as “naturally occurring”.  “We are talking about more and more proof that, at the heart of Central Europe, a dangerous biological operation was being carried out,” he stressed, warning that the new evidence is “only the tip of the iceberg” and pledging to keep the global community informed as more facts emerge.

Responding to those allegations, the representative of the United States recalled that the Council already heard a similar “tirade of bizarre conspiracy theories” at its 11 March meeting.  Today, the Russian Federation’s claims sound as if they were forwarded through a chain email from “some dark corner of the Internet”.  As she said on 11 March, Ukraine does not have a biological weapons programme, but only hosts public health facilities that are proudly supported by the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other Governments and international institutions.  Moreover, she expressed grave concern that today’s fresh allegations could be part of a Russian “false flag effort in action”, warning that Moscow could then use biological or chemical weapons against Ukrainians.

The United Kingdom’s delegate, recalling that just yesterday the Council discussed the devastating humanitarian situation in Ukraine, said today it is hearing yet another “rehash of amateurish disinformation that we discussed and debunked last Friday”.  “It was nonsense then, and it is nonsense now,” she said, adding that the real threat to international peace and security is the ongoing Russian aggression.  Describing today’s charade as “not worthy of a permanent member of the Security Council”, she urged Moscow to urgently end its invasion of Ukraine.

The representative of Gabon was among other Council members who expressed concern about the worsening crisis in Ukraine, as well as the grave tenor of today’s meeting, while noting that no new facts have been raised since the 11 March meeting on the same topic.  All States parties must abide by the terms of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, of which Gabon is also a member, he said, reiterating his country’s repeated calls for the parties to engage in negotiations in good faith in order to bring an end to the war, whose consequences are already being felt far beyond Ukraine.

China’s representative struck a different tone, emphasizing that any information on biological military activities should trigger “high concern” by the international community.  Urging the relevant parties to take a responsible approach, he encouraged those mentioned in the Russian Federation’s new evidence to respond to questions raised and offer timely, comprehensive clarifications to assuage the international community’s doubts.  “We do not consider it too much to ask,” he said, while cautioning against the use of any double standards.

Also speaking today were representatives of Albania, Ireland, France, Ghana, Brazil, Kenya, Norway, India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:17 a.m.

Briefing

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said she has been informed of the Russian Federation’s submission of new documents regarding allegations of biological weapons programmes in Ukraine.  As she informed the Council in a similar meeting on 11 March, the United Nations is not aware of any such biological weapons programmes.  Noting that the Organization currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate such information, she said both the Russian Federation and Ukraine are States parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.

Outlining possible courses of action for resolving inter-State problems under that Convention — which include the possible convening of a consultative meeting — she said the Office for Disarmament Affairs stands ready to support any procedures under its terms that States parties may decide to use.  Turning to the issue of the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities, she said the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that according to the Ukrainian authorities, all safety systems at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant remained fully functional as of 17 March, following the site’s loss of connection to a third external power line linking it to the national electricity grid.

Although officials from the Russian Federation’s State nuclear power company were present at the facilities in southern Ukraine, she said, Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant.  The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant remains connected to the national electricity grid, following reconnection on 14 March.  However, Ukrainian operators and guards have not been able to rotate for three weeks.  IAEA reports that, according to the Ukrainian authorities, eight of the country’s 15 reactors remain operational.  Meanwhile, IAEA is still not receiving remote data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at Chernobyl, but such data was being transferred to IAEA headquarters from the other nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

Statements

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) recalled that, in the course of his country’s special military operation in Ukraine, information was discovered of dangerous projects related to a biological and weapons programme in Ukraine, backed by Western colleagues.  Last week, when confronted by such evidence, the United States delegate was not able to explain documentary proof of such cooperation — namely, of a 2005 agreement signed between United States and Ukrainian ministers, which laid out support for joint biological research on Ukrainian territory.  Over the last week, new details have come to light, namely that the components for biological weapons were being created on Ukrainian territory.  Indeed, he said, the United States was not assisting the Ukrainian Ministry of Health as it claimed, but rather the Ministry of Defence.  The Russian Federation has circulated proof of that agreement to the Council, including proof of direct funding to Ukraine amounting to $32 million and of research direction by the Pentagon.

The representatives of the United States continue to muddle that information, asserting that the country does not operate in any biological laboratories in Ukraine, “but the facts show otherwise”, he continued.  In fact, the Ukrainian authorities gave the United States carte blanche to carry out dangerous experiments on its territory in return for free travel and accommodations to international conferences.  Describing the use of the Ukrainian territory by the United States as cynical, he called on other countries that provide such access to Washington, D.C., to carefully study their cooperation contracts and to share data on the activities of some 360 laboratories under United States control around the world.

In Ukraine, he said, evidence points to studies that were conducted on Crimean-Congo fever, leptospirosis and other dangerous pathogens.  As those are naturally present in both Ukraine and the Russian Federation, their use could then be easily dressed up as naturally occurring.  In that context, he called for more attention to be paid to the contractors selected by the United States to carry out such research, namely the Black & Veatch company.  Noting that research into six families of viruses — including coronaviruses — were identified in the United States-Ukraine research since 2009, he said documents now reveal the involvement of the Kharkov Institute, which was central in studying how such illnesses could pass from bats into humans.  Ukrainian specialists were not informed of associated risks and were kept in the dark as to the real goals of the research.  Meanwhile, biological waste was transported long distances and evidence was often destroyed.

Spotlighting the United States Government staff member Joanna Wintrol as the individual who signed the documents found by the Russian Federation, he stated:  “We are talking about more and more proof that, at the heart of Central Europe, a dangerous biological operation was being carried out.”  Recalling that, in 2018, residents of Luhansk and Donetsk saw the spread of a new, deadly, multi-resistant strain of tuberculosis, he stressed that the outbreak now “does not look like a coincidence”.  The Russian Federation has long pushed for an additional protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention to provide more transparency on such activities, but the United States has blocked it.  Today, it is evident that the facts discovered are “only the tip of the iceberg”.  The Russian Federation will continue to keep the international community informed as more facts emerge, he said.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the Council heard nothing new from the High Representative today “because there is nothing new”.  On 11 March, the Council heard that the United Nations is not aware of any alleged programmes in Ukraine inconsistent with international treaty obligations, including on chemical or biological weapons.  “What are we doing this morning,” he asked, questioning why the Council is being asked to consider non-existent chemical weapons programmes in Ukraine, developed in non-existent laboratories and financed by non-existent programmes from the United States.  The Russian Federation’s claims remain unverified, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and not independently assessed:  “in a word, not credible”.  He blamed Moscow for abusing the Council in an attempt to shift attention from its crimes and stalled invasion of Ukraine, pointing also to its track record of accusing others of crimes it perpetrates, including attempted assassinations and poisoning of its own citizens.  Claims must be properly and fully investigated.  The Russian Federation should agree to an immediate ceasefire throughout Ukraine, withdraw all its forces to within 40 kilometres of suspected locations, request United Nations security forces to secure a radius of that size, and allow diagnostic and research teams to conduct investigations.  Instead, “we have the impression that Russia speaks to itself”, he said, stressing that with one exception, “everyone around this table”, as well as 140 countries in the General Assembly, has been clear on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, dealing with issues not by killing innocent people and destroying a country, but rather through negotiations and diplomatic channels.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that last week the Council heard a “tirade of bizarre conspiracy theories”.  Today, it is hearing things that sound like they were forwarded to her Russian counterpart through a chain email from “some dark corner of the Internet”.  As she said on 11 March, Ukraine does not have a biological weapons programme.  “There are no such labs, not near Russia’s border, not anywhere,” she said.  They are public health facilities, proudly supported by the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other Governments and international institutions.  Rather, it is the Russian Federation that has long maintained a chemical weapons programme in violation of international law and a well-documented history of chemical weapons use.  “Russia is the aggressor,” she said, recalling that it poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal with nerve agents, and currently supports Syria’s Assad regime, shielding it from accountability.  The Council convened today because the Russian Federation knew that its ploy to pass an exculpatory resolution had failed.  “This meeting is a result of their isolation on this Council and on the world stage,” she said, reiterating “deep and serious” concern that this decision represents a “potential false flag effort in action”.  Moscow has repeatedly accused others of the very violations it plans to perpetrate; it is possible it plans to use chemical or biological agents against Ukrainians.  The United States will continue to tell the world where it believes the Russian Federation is heading and recall that Moscow has repeatedly lied to the Council in recent weeks.  Despite all evidence, the Russian Federation said it would not invade Ukraine, that it was interested in diplomacy.  “Where are the 100,000 troops who were sitting on the Russian side of the border now?” she asked.  Sadly, many have given their lives in this “senseless unconscionable war” against the Ukrainian people, she said, adding that Moscow lied to its own people as well, shutting down its own media to hide the truth.  Its disinformation is a sign of its desperation.  “That is the truth,” she said.  “We will continue to ensure the world sees it and hears it.”

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said that it is deeply troubling to hear the Russian Federation’s unsubstantiated, unfounded allegations, noting that the only “so-called proof provided is to point to transparent projects necessary for biosecurity, for human or animal health.  Research of the kind carried out by many countries to advance global health”, she said.  Urging Moscow to cease its campaigns of disinformation, she pointed out that Russian military forces in Ukraine have already demonstrated reckless disregard for nuclear safety and security since the start of their invasion, which raises real fears of a significant radiological, chemical or biological accident.  Stressing that the use of biological and chemical weapons is immoral and illegal in any circumstance, she urged Moscow not to violate or undermine the essential multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation instruments of global security.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), noting that no new information was presented today, said the Russian Federation is mounting a cynical and irresponsible disinformation campaign.  “This meeting is not based on any proven fact,” he stressed, noting that Ukraine has no biological weapons programme and complies with its international obligations in that regard.  The Russian Federation, on the other hand, has repeatedly used chemical weapons in recent years — including in support of the Syrian regime and in the United Kingdom in targeted assassination attempts.  Warning against inventing an alternate reality, he expressed deep concern that such disinformation could be a prelude to the use of a chemical or biological weapon in Ukraine.  “If such attacks took place, there would be only one responsible, it would be Russia,” he said, describing such a possible use of weapons as an intolerable escalation of the conflict that would lead to massive economic sanctions in response.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), recalling that just yesterday the Council discussed the devastating humanitarian situation in Ukraine, said today it is hearing yet another “rehash of amateurish disinformation that we discussed and debunked last Friday”.  “It was nonsense then, and it is nonsense now,” she said, stressing that laboratories in Ukraine carrying out research into public health hazards are not a threat to international peace and security, unlike the massive aggression being carried out in Ukraine by the Russian Federation.  Describing today’s charade as “not worthy of a permanent member of the Security Council”, she urged Moscow to urgently end its invasion.

KHALILAH HACKMAN (Ghana) reaffirmed that a conclusive determination of Ukraine’s biological programme can only be made after assessments by internationally credited bodies.  The weaponization of chemical or biological agents would be unconscionable and should not be contemplated.  The international community must forge consensus towards the creation of a verification regime for the Biological Weapons Convention, given recent global developments, she said, stressing that the possession of weapons of mass destruction neither assures international peace nor national security.  She raised the pressing need to cease hostilities and unconditionally and immediately withdraw all Russian invading troops from Ukraine’s borders, especially given the price hikes in food and gas negatively impacting the fragile global economy struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.  She welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to work to mitigate the war’s impact and reinforce solidarity, adding that civilians must be protected, with safe passage provided for evacuees.  She also called for an immediate end to attacks on medical facilities and for the protection of medical and humanitarian personnel.

RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) requested Council members to refrain from attempting to interpret his country’s position on any issue, stressing that it is “perfectly capable of presenting its own views”.  Fifty years ago, Brazil adopted the Biological Weapons Convention, determined to exclude the possibility of such agents and toxins from being used as weapons.  It took that important step convinced that such use would be repugnant to the conscience of humankind.  Today, for the second time in a week, the Council has gathered to discuss alleged development, production and stockpiling of such abhorrent weapons.  Accusations of this gravity must be thoroughly substantiated by solid evidence, which must be presented to and confirmed by an independent and impartial authority as foreseen in the Convention’s Article VI.  Brazil has long supported the creation of a multilateral verification protocol to the Convention, with measures to guarantee protection and security against emerging threats.  The situation today only reinforces the need to establish such a mechanism.  Brazil looks forward to Convention’s ninth review conference, he said, calling for a restart of negotiations to strengthen the regime, including by creating a protocol and deepening discussions on biosafety and security.  Stressing that legitimate scientific and technological research should be kept distinct from possible violations of the prohibition of the development and production of biological weapons “if we wish to preserve the current biological weapons regime”, he said research into new and dangerous pathogens should be subject to strict transparency mechanisms.  He condemned in the strongest possible terms the use or threat thereof of chemical or biological weapons by anyone, under any circumstances.

STEPHANIE NGONYO MUIGAI (Kenya), noting the intolerable cost of the armed conflict in Ukraine, pointed to the increase in prices of essential commodities all over the world, particularly in the global South, due to shortages and sanctions.  Expressing concern about the targeting of civilians as well as residential homes, health facilities, shelters, and power and water infrastructure, she stressed that the Council should focus on getting a cessation of the military campaign.  Any allegation of development of biological weapons in contravention of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Biological Weapons must not be taken lightly, she emphasized, calling on all State parties to the Convention to make use of the established mechanisms to investigate such allegations and to seize the opportunity of the Ninth Review Conference later this year to strengthen the biological weapons regime.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said that she did not understand the rationale behind the last-minute call to have further discussions about the biological weapons programmes in Ukraine today.  Further, she said it was unacceptable of the Russian Federation to continue to repeat its unsupported claim that Ukraine is preparing to use biological weapons.  Stressing that Norway remains a firm supporter of the Biological Weapons Convention, she reiterated her country’s condemnation on any use of such weapons.  She also expressed deep regret that the Russian Federation, by calling these meetings, seeks to undermine this Council and its vital role in peace diplomacy.  “Russia is waging an unlawful war against another UN Member State with devastating humanitarian consequences,” she stated, adding that the sole responsibility for the war falls on the Russian Federation.

CHRISTOPHE NANGA (Gabon) said that, in the absence of any new facts since last week’s meeting, his country’s position remains unchanged.  All States parties must abide by the terms of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, of which Gabon is also a member.  He reiterated his call for the parties to engage in negotiations in good faith in order to bring an end to the war, whose consequences are already being felt far beyond Ukraine.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) stressed that his country attaches high importance to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention as a key global and non-discriminatory disarmament instrument, prohibiting an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.  Any matter relating to obligations under the Convention should be addressed as per its provisions and through consultations and cooperation between the parties concerned.  Expressing deep concern at the progressively deteriorating situation in Ukraine, he welcomed the latest round of diplomatic talks between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, stressing that immediate cessation of hostilities and diligently pursuing the path of dialogue and diplomacy is the only way forward. 

ZHANG JUN (China) said he shared the desire of the international community to achieve a ceasefire as soon as possible in order to avoid more civilian casualties.  That the Russian Federation and Ukraine have held four negotiation rounds and “stay in touch with each other” offers hope for a ceasefire.  China will continue to facilitate dialogue and supports the United Nations in ramping up mediation efforts.  He encouraged parties to carry out activities that are conducive to peace talks, pointing to the goal of European security.  He expressed hope that the United States, European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) can engage the Russian Federation in a comprehensive dialogue that explores ways to put in place a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture, based on the principle of “indivisible security”.  China’s position on weapons of mass destruction is clear, he affirmed, noting that it stands for their complete prohibition and destruction.  It opposes the development, possession and use of any such weapons by any country, and he urged those that have yet to do so to destroy their stockpiles.  He called for early negotiations of the Biological Weapons Convention verification regime, adding that China has been a victim of biological and chemical weapons use.  Stressing that any information on biological military activities should trigger “high concern” by the international community, he urged the relevant parties to take a responsible approach.  The Russian Federation has reviewed new documents, and he encouraged the party concerned to respond to questions and offer timely, comprehensive clarifications to remove the international community’s doubts.  “We do not consider it too much to ask,” he said, cautioning against the use of any double standards.

JUAN RAMON DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) affirmed that the Biological Weapons Convention is the fundamental instrument within the disarmament regime to address issues raised today, as it contains mechanisms for dispute resolution consultations, which should be used when a States party deems it necessary.  When there are doubts, as suggested, “why don’t you proceed on terms of the Convention”, he asked, stressing that the Council cannot be held hostage by contradictory signs, raising issues one day, only to substitute them the next.  Explaining that Mexico continues to be open to dialogue and negotiations, he said there must be reciprocity on this effective commitment to dialogue.  Noting that less than 24 hours have passed since the last Council meeting on Ukraine, he said a cessation of hostilities is urgently needed to ensure the unhindered supply of humanitarian aid, without restrictions or exclusions.

MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said the use of biological weapons or other weapons of mass destruction by any party under any circumstances cannot be justified, describing their use as an attack on humanity as a whole, for which perpetrators must be held accountable.  He said their prohibition, including through the Biological Weapons Convention, is among the world’s most important achievements, and that maintaining consensus on their prohibition is part of the Council’s responsibility to maintain international peace and security.  He called for using all diplomatic tools available to alleviate civilian suffering and to stop hostilities in Ukraine, which in turn would allow for resolving the conflict in line with international law.

The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor again, took issue with statements that were “literally repeated” from the Council’s 11 March meeting, adding that “if you have heard nothing new, it is because you were not listening to us”.  His delegation provided new material and documents, which it disseminated.  These documents have signatures, prepared on the basis of cooperation between the United States and Ukraine.  He cautioned the representative of the United States against making unfounded accusations about Russian propaganda, and to instead answer the questions raised.  He denounced accusations that the Russian Federation would deploy biological chemical weapons against Ukraine, when in fact it officially warned that it has information about Ukrainian nationalists using chemical agents in some regions, and then accusing Moscow of having deployed them.  “This is a false flag operation,” he clarified.  He also did not say that Ukraine has a military biological programme.  Rather, he said the programme belongs to the United States and that Ukraine “is being kept in the dark”.  He also offered facts about the spike in lethal diseases in Ukraine, for which there are no explanations, but which could be linked to this kind of activity.  Secret military programmes are not shared with the United Nations “or anyone else”, he said, noting that the Russian Federation would keep the Council abreast of new facts, which he assured would soon be revealed.

For information media. Not an official record.