Russian-Enhanced Ukrainian Biological Weapons Conspiracy Theory Explained

  • For weeks, conspiracy theories circulated that the United States and Ukraine were creating biological weapons.
  • This theory was supported by prominent right-wing figures in America, as well as Russian and Chinese officials.
  • The conspiracy theory has circulated widely in QAnon communities on the internet.

At the start of the Russian invasion, conspiracy theories that the US and Ukraine wanted to make biological warfare weapons circulated for weeks in far-right media, pro-Russian Telegram channels and QAnon groups. . These baseless claims were quickly reprinted on prime time cable news and saw millions and millions of views on YouTube.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is a comedian and Russell Brand is a YouTube host. This conspiracy theory has been fueled by many other experts, including Tucker Carlson (Fox News) and Russell Brand (YouTube host). These theories were previously limited to Russian state media and far-right forums like 4chan. These claims have grown so strong that US and European officials have repeatedly resisted what they call a disinformation campaign in recent weeks.

On March 10, the Director of National Intelligence in the United States addressed the Senate Intelligence Committee. April HainesThe conspiracy theory, also called the “classic Russian movement”, is the same with the “long-running effort to accuse the United States of sponsoring biological weapons”.

The conspiracy theory is not dead. Kremlin officials have DoubleAccording to these claims, prominent right-wing figures as well as far-right online chat users continue to discuss it and add new elements to the fictional narrative. Experts say the episode shows how fringe conspiracies can enter mainstream media and how they can persist despite the lack of evidence to back them up.

Beatriz Buarque (a conspiracy theorist and doctoral student at the Center for Radical Right Analysis) told Insider that the theory is so well-known because it provides a narrative of the invasion that appeals to people who distrust institutions. Americans.

Conspiracy theories “satisfy the human desire for explanations, often reducing complex events to a battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil,'” Buarque said. “Especially during times of great uncertainty, they tend to thrive because they provide a sense of direction.”

Russian officials and media gurus give biolab plot a boost

Almost immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, conspiracy theories began circulating. After the now deceased WarClandestine posted a Twitter thread claiming that Russia was attacking Ukraine in order to destroy its bio-labs, the hashtag #USBioLabs became a trending topic. Snopes is a fact-checking site. Politifact is also available Theories have been coveredHe dismissed the claim as false, based on a misunderstanding of programs aimed at reducing outbreaks.

The United States did not help Ukraine through its Department of Defense.Biological Threat Reduction ProgramThe BTRP, which is tasked with detecting pathogens and fighting disease outbreaks, shows no evidence of a military or weapons-focused agenda. According to the website of the US Embassy in Ukraine, the BTRP included the construction of two new laboratories and the modernization of several existing laboratories in Ukraine.

Buarque said the misrepresentation of Russia’s invasion as an attack on Western elites using Ukraine for the production of bioweapons was a perfect fit for far-right conspirators.

“For many far-right supporters, Western governments and the mainstream media are deceiving,” Buarque said. “Vladimir Putin explicitly expressed the same views when announcing the military operation.”

This theory received even more attention from Russian officials who repeated and expanded on it in March.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed that Russian forces discovered the truth on March 6. “a US-funded military biological program”. According toRussian state news media TASS. Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, repeated the claim on Wednesday. AlluvialThe Ukrainian government was developing biological warfare capabilities. Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, also reiterated Russia’s conspiracy earlier this month. Claims madeAmerican biolabs operate in Ukraine. The United States should publish its findings on “biological military activities”.

Weibo is a Chinese microblogging platform that allows users to use hashtags to discuss conspiracy theories. At least 180 million viewsAccording to the Washington Post:

Russian and Chinese media and officials have provided no evidence to support their claims. This is something both the United States and Ukraine have denied and fact-checking organizations have confirmed. Debunked. Instead, experts and US officials say it’s part of an ongoing Russian disinformation campaign aimed at justifying the invasion of Ukraine.

External Spokesperson of the European Union Peter Stano said on March 9The Kremlin’s credibility is “highly dubious and low” and that Russia has “a reputation for promoting manipulative narratives about bioweapons and so-called ‘secret labs.'” Meanwhile, White House press secretary, Jen Psaki called Russia’s claims “False” and “Absurd” on Twitter.

The White House claimed the theory was being used to justify invading the Kremlin, while suggesting that Russia might itself use chemical weapons – which the Geneva Protocol banned for use in the war after the First World War – and then blame Ukraine.

Conservative media and other pundits framed the White House denials as part of a cover-up, selling the conspiracy as illicit knowledge that authorities don’t want the public to know. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeated conspiracy theory several times on the air and claimed that the United States was lying about not manufacturing biological weapons in Ukraine. On Thursday night’s show, he echoed a Russian propaganda report who claimed Hunter Biden, a frequent target of conspiracy theories, was involved in setting up biolabs in Ukraine.

According to a report from the Brookings InstituteThere are many episodes that focus on claims, and some of them have multiple episodes.

Comedian Russell Brand made similar comments on YouTube. He encouraged viewers not to trust. “propaganda stories”Spread by “mainstream media”Information about Ukrainian laboratories. This episode has been viewed more than 1.7 million times since it aired in March. Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is who A storySpreading conspiracy theories and echoing Russian claims, which were also unsubstantiated. The 17th of March, Presented a billCongress “Stops Taxpayer Funding of Biological Weapons”.

Russian propaganda has a history of spreading biological warfare claims

Caroline Orr Bueno (a behavioral scientist and disinformation researcher) told Insider that the Kremlin biolab story is the latest in a long line of Russian biological warfare disinformation operations.

Bueno said Russia’s biological conspiracy theories date back at least to the 1980s when the Soviet Union’s KGB launched a campaign to spread the false claim that the United States created HIV/AIDS. To claimIt was the result of military scientific experiments. Russian claims about US biological weapons have been a common topic of conversation in the Kremlin.

“There have been a number of subsequent allegations involving other viruses and labs, including in 2016 when Russia falsely accused the United States of building secret biolabs to manufacture bioweapons in Georgia and the United States. Kazakhstan,” Bueno said.

Russian media are now widely knownAlmost identical misrepresentationsAccording toThe EUvsDisinfo fact-checking database.

Bueno said the biolab conspiracy is also widespread in the QAnon community, including Telegram chats, and among QAnon Group members. It spread to other members of the so-called biolab conspiracy. Protest by the “Freedom Convoy” truckers in the United States. Many right-wing publications have a habit of spreading conspiracy theories that are not true, includingInfoWars by Alex JonesIn addition, they have published articles on the subject.

QAnon supporters have taken Russia’s bioweapons narrative from Russia and given it “an American twist,” Bueno said. Bueno said there is a conspiracy theory within QAnon circles that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is also targeting child traffickers as well as enemies of the Deep State. It could be with the help of Donald Trump.

Sharon D. Cole