The Latest Russian Propaganda: Bioweapon Labs in Ukraine
Russian propaganda is claiming there are secret American biological weapons in Ukraine in an attempt to manipulate international opinion on the Russian invasion. Though these claims have been debunked by leading sources and independent investigators, American rightwing media has created an echo chamber for the conspiracy theory, rocketing it from the fringe QAnon channel directly to Fox News.
Background on Ukrainian Biolabs
Ukraine has biolabs that research pathogens—just like many other labs across the world that engage in scientific research. The US supports these labs to achieve scientific breakthroughs like the production of vaccines that combat major diseases, new treatments for cancers, and even new ways to treat Alzheimers.
The Ukrainian biolabs are fully owned and operated by Ukraine and their work is fully viewable to the public. Their research is part of a bigger project called the Biological Threat Reduction Program which aims to reduce deadly outbreaks, both natural and artificial.
Worker in a bio-lab looking under a microscope.
Russian Propaganda Takes Root
Russia began exporting rumors about US-sponsored biolabs before they even invaded Ukraine.
Moscow has been claiming the United States runs a secret bioweapons program in Europe for years, even insinuating the US “deliberately caused” the coronavirus pandemic and pointing blame at US-funded laboratories near Russian and Chinese borders.
In December 2021, John Mark Dougan – an American in Moscow, who is hiding in Russia from wiretapping and extortion charges in Florida – posted, “Washington and its funded laboratories are playing a very dangerous game with these viruses.”
In the early hours after the invasion, this conspiracy was immediately revamped and recycled. A Twitter account of a longtime follower of the QAnon conspiracy (@WarClandestine) movement remarked that approximately 30 biolabs were dotted across Ukraine, tweeting:
“China and Russia indirectly (and correctly) blamed the US for the [Covid-19] outbreak,” and “And are fearful that the US/allies have more viruses (bioweapons) to let out.” He suggested the invasion was about destroying those facilities and the viruses they contained.
This disinformation laid the groundwork for the QAnon-linked conspiracy theory which got picked up by the far-right US conspiracy site Infowars with the headline: Russian Strikes Targeting US-Run Bio-Labs in Ukraine?
Russian Propaganda in American News
Now, Russian propaganda has infiltrated American news outlets, especially on the right. Some far-right groups and Fox News hosts have been repeating Russian language half-truths about Ukrainian biolabs. As trusted American news sources, the disinformation they are repeating is being picked up by the American public.
Television personalities like Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson devoted segments on his shows to Russian propaganda while high profile figures like Donald Trump Jr. tweeted to his over 7 million followers insisting conspiracy theories around labs were “proven.”
On his show, Carlson insisted that the United States was “funding the creation of deadly pathogens” and played clips of spokespeople for the Russian and Chinese regimes, accusing Washington of operating a bioweapons programme in Europe.
How are we sure Carlson is parroting propaganda? The Russian propaganda machine has ordered Russian TV to broadcast him talking about it on their national television programs.
Other Fox News contributors have also called Carlson out for spreading Russian propaganda.
Protect Yourself from Fake News
It is important to protect yourself and others from fake news. Always consider the source, author, date, and website you are assessing information from. And remember–if the news seems outlandish, it probably is. Learn More: Spotting Fake News/ Fake News Websites Targeting Americans .