Inter-American problems and regional policy
Comment by the Information and Press Department on developments involving the Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Georgia
Foreign states’ military biological activity based on the Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, is begging numerous well-justified questions. This high-level biosecurity laboratory has been built by the US Department of Defence and is operated in its interests to research pathogens of some particularly dangerous infectious diseases. The Centre houses the US Army Medical Research Directorate- Georgia. According to the available information, the DOD and its affiliated organisations bankroll the laboratory research and pay operational expenses, including security costs. Despite Russia’s requests, the United States has failed to provide any information on the double-purpose activity conducted there, both as part of confidence-building measures under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC) and bilaterally.
We are concerned with Washington’s failure to explain what exactly it is doing in the direct vicinity of Russian borders. As is only natural, we cannot but take this into consideration in the national security context, particularly where such sensitive matters are involved.
Russian officials (including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence) and public figures, as well as Georgian experts and members of civil society have repeatedly pointed out that the Lugar Centre’s operations are giving rise to serious questions as to the US conforming to its BWTC obligations. Specifically, it was noted that this biological facility conducted research on using insects as carriers of particularly dangerous biological agents and pathogens.
It has been brought to our attention that the US has patented a drone designed to release infected mosquitoes into the air. Yet another patent has been taken out for ammunition containing chemical agents or infectious agents. It is obvious that these “inventions” contradict the letter and the spirit of the BTWC.
As far as “repeated inspections” at the Lugar Centre are concerned, we know of just one visit paid by a group of foreign experts on November 14-16, 2018, with the declared objective to ensure transparency and higher confidence of compliance with the BTWC. We repeatedly warned (including at the stage of the preparations for the visit) that it was aimed at deceiving the international community as to the real status of this facility. The visit’s schedule did not envisage a thorough verification of the kind that would have enabled an objective conclusion regarding the real BTWC compliance situation or confirmed information contained in Georgian declarations on confidence-building measures.
A report circulated on behalf of the group of experts predictably rates the “transparency” allegedly demonstrated by the host side in a way favourable for the United States. It notes that the visitors noticed nothing suspicious. As is obvious, the comforting phrases and pseudo-scientific descriptions are used in order to avoid the need to answer the main question: Why is the Georgian health laboratory financed by the US military and houses on a permanent basis the US Army Medical Research Directorate - Georgia?
It is also a notable fact that there is not a single signature under the report. In all evidence, this is meant to “dilute the responsibility” and conceal the true mastermind and organiser of this stage-managed visit – the US Department of Defence – behind the screen of anonymity.
It must be stressed that contrary to open disinformation spread by certain media, the visit to the Lugar Centre had nothing to do with the UN or the BTWC. Therefore, these authoritative international institutions are in no way related to the assessment of its performance. As far as the BTWC is concerned, which is more important, this voluntary visit cannot be regarded as confirmation of compliance with the obligations under the Convention that lacks a verification mechanism of its own.
We have to state once again that Washington continues to keep to its hypocritical position. Formally advocating a stronger BTWC regime, it has been blocking, for two decades, the approval of a binding Protocol to the BTWC with an effective verification mechanism. It is unclear what prevents the US from agreeing to Protocol-suggested verification, if, as is claimed, it pursues no activity that would contradict the BTWC, the more so that US representatives would refer to verification as the basic factor of any effective arms control agreement.
We are still unable to arrange a mutually acceptable visit to the Lugar Centre by related Russian experts. The Georgian side has failed to respond in any meaningful way to our note of June 2019 with a request to provide the necessary explanations as to the modalities of a possible visit. We are expecting Tbilisi’s official response.
We believe that it is expedient to organise a visit by Russian experts to the Lugar Centre only if there are guarantees of access to all the laboratory buildings (including the premises occupied by US specialists), something that will make it possible to ensure its real verification. In this way, the visit will not become part of yet another American PR campaign designed to conceal the true substance of the work being conducted by US Department of Defence biologists in the vicinity of Russian borders. We proceed from the assumption that the visit should be bilateral and involve no representatives of other countries (except perhaps for the Pentagon staff accredited at the Lugar Centre), nor of other international or regional organisations. This will make it possible to focus on an orderly expert analysis of the situation.
We will continue to work with Washington and Tbilisi to get coherent answers to the questions we have posed.