Does Ukraine have a bioweapons research program, and if it does, is the United States involved in it? In a characteristically insightful op-ed, Glen Greenwald noted that a colloquy last Monday at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between Sen. Marco Rubio and Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland shed light on that question.
Both Russia and China have suggested that Ukraine has a bioweapons research program, and Rubio, apparently confident that Nuland would rebut those claims, asked her if they were true. To Rubio’s apparent surprise, Nuland replied, “uh, Ukraine has, uh, biological research facilities” and “we are now in fact quite concerned that Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to, uh, gain control of [those labs], so we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.”
Rubio, who had begun the questioning by noting that he had only one minute of time left, chose not to pursue Nuland’s (apparently reluctant) admission. Rather than asking her to detail whether Ukraine’s “biological research facilities” were engaging in bioweaponry research (and whether the US was supporting that activity), Rubio used his remaining time to get Nuland to affirm that if a biological attack were to happen, Russia would be the guilty party. Obligingly, Nuland agreed that she was sure of that.
As Greenwald notes, this brief exchange raises a number of questions that our government needs to answer. Among them:
- The question Rubio posed was whether Ukraine had “chemical or biological weapons.” Nuland’s answer referred to “biological research facilities.” Was that an indication that Ukraine did have biological weaponry, or the capability to develop it? Was Nuland really answering “Yes” to Rubio’s question?
- Rubio seemed surprised by Nuland’s answer. But he is the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. If the US is in fact assisting a Ukrainian bioweapons program, was the Senate Intelligence Committee not told of that?
- Why did Rubio cut Nuland off rather than following up and take the colloquy in a different direction?
- Why is the US urgently “working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces”? Is it perhaps because the materials would provide evidence of US involvement in a Ukrainian bioweaponry program?
- If the labs are working on Russian bioweapons, as the Pentagon claims, why has it taken so long to remove these biomaterials and why is Nuland worried that Russian bioweapons would fall into the hands of old Russians (who certainly would already have these bioweapons)?
- Rubio sought Nulan’s assurance that if there were an incident involving bioweapons, only Russia would be to blame for it. By asking that, Rubio heightened the risk of a “false flag” episode in which the Ukrainians used bioweaponry (assuming that there are such materials in the “facilities”), secure in the knowledge that the US would denounce the Russians for using it. Rubio seemed to be trying to close off any suggestion that Ukraine – and the US, if it is partnering with Ukraine in bioweaponry research – should be held accountable for any incident. How can the Republican chair of the intelligence committee be this irresponsible?
As Greenwald emphasizes, these are only questions, not claims of fact. We simply do not know, for sure, what is going on in Ukraine’s “biological research facilities.” The Ukrainian research program may well be designed solely for innocent and valid purposes such as animal health (e.g., combating swine fever virus) as Robert Pope, the Director of the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, has contended.
Mr. Pope affirms that the Russians may be seeking to gain control of the research facilities in order to fabricate evidence that would be used to substantiate their claims. Our urgency in preventing them from entering the facilities might be due to fear that that would happen. It would not be motivated by a desire to conceal or destroy evidence of Pentagon involvement in illegal bioweapons research.
The Pentagon’s Cooperative Defense Threat Program originated three decades ago as, essentially, an effort to undo the work of the large-scale Soviet bioweapons program, find alternative employment for the 65,000 scientists who had worked for it, clean up and monitor the sites where the illegal research had been done and promote research that would contribute to public health in the countries, including Russia, where the Soviet labs had been located. (Russia was initially favorable to the program.) According to Pope, the US has worked with 26 labs, some large, others small, in Ukraine and provides direct material support to six of them.
The evidence may bear out the Pentagon’s account. But the mere fact that Russia and China are unreliable sources and may well be spreading disinformation does not mean that suspicions about our own government or Ukraine’s are unfounded. Our government may be trying to prevent the Russians from obtaining evidence that would back up their charges – and seeking to preempt the effects of such disclosures by putting out our own “disinformation.”
More investigation by Congress, the media, foreign governments, and international organizations is required. We cannot presume that State and Defense Department officials involved with Ukraine and its biological research programs are disinterested witnesses telling the world the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are solid reasons to doubt the veracity of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s accounts of the NIH’s role in funding research in Wuhan; why not that of other officials with skin in the game? Which brings us to the reliability of Rubio’s witness: Victoria Nuland.
Who is Victoria Nuland?
According to Salon magazine, Nuland, Biden’s Under Secretary of State, “is stuck in the quicksand of 1950s U.S.-Russia Cold War politics and dreams of continued NATO expansion, an arms race on steroids and further encirclement of Russia.” Nuland is married to the prominent neoconservative writer Robert Kagan, and was a foreign policy adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003-5, later migrating to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy staff.
She has risen in the State Department since then and even played a role in the Russiagate conspiracy. Her activities included pushing Fusion GPS conspiracy theories in the State Department, and then disseminating these conspiracy theories into the broader Obama administration — all while she was planning on serving a Hillary Clinton administration if Trump lost.
If you are searching for an Avatar of the Deep State, dial Nuland.
Let’s go back to Ukraine’s “Maidan Revolution” of February 2014 — a US-backed coup or revolution that brought down the legitimate, elected (but also corrupt, dishonest, and “pro-Russian”) Yanukovych government of Ukraine.
The events marked a critical turning point in US-Russian relations. It sealed the end of President Obama’s fumbling attempt at a Russian “reset.” It helped confirm Vladimir Putin’s belief that US “democracy promotion” was a guise for extending the US sphere of influence and encircling Russia with hostile neighbors. And some of the key players in those events eight years ago — Victoria Nuland, Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden — are running US policy on Ukraine today.
Architect of the Second Cold War
When Nuland was an Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, piloting US policy in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, she revealed that the US had “invested” over $5 billion in democracy promotion in Ukraine since 1991. She also took it for granted that Ukraine had a “European future” – from which, apparently, Russia would be excluded.
Then in February 2014, as the Yanukovych government began to crumble in the face of popular demonstrations, Nuland had a telephone conversation with the US Ambassador in Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The conversation was intercepted (presumably, by Russian intelligence) and released. (The US has not denied its authenticity). The transcript is available online.
Together, Nuland and Pyatt began to handpick the personnel to lead the post-Yanukovich government. According to Richard Sakwa, a leading British scholar of Russian and Ukrainian affairs, “[a]lthough the mantra of the Atlantic powers was that Ukrainian sovereignty should be respected, the tape revealed that the US had clear ideas on who should assume power… [I]t reveals a high degree of US meddling in Ukrainian affairs.” Nuland rejected one opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko and nominated another, Arsenty Yatsenyuk (who indeed was anointed as the next Prime Minister).
Then Nuland and Pyatt discussed how to bring this result about. Nuland wanted to bring in the UN, to put an international seal of approval on the deal, and expressed – using the traditionally nuanced language of diplomacy – her dissatisfaction with our European allies’ efforts: “I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, fuck the EU.”
Nuland also informed Pyatt that the US would wheel in then-Vice President Joe Biden at the appropriate time to bless the regime change. The BBC’s lightly edited version of the transcript reads:
When I wrote the note [US vice-president’s national security adviser Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need [US Vice-President Joe] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.
Reflecting on this episode in his magistral 2018 book “Republic in Peril“, the international relations scholar David Hendrickson writes:
The renewal of the cold war with Russia in Europe was the most lamentable, and perhaps even most inexplicable, blunder of the Obama presidency. Victoria Nuland marched into Kiev with as much élan as any neoconservative could muster, successfully encouraging the February revolution, but the grim and predictable result was a stark deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and the breakdown of the post-Cold War peace.
What is to be Done?
Nuland and many D.C. politicians including Rubio are not in search of the truth here, rather they have an agenda of military confrontation with Russia. This agenda is both wildly irresponsible, and completely ignores the overwhelming will of the American people to stay out of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Because of the lack of honestly from the D.C. political class, honest politicians and media professionals need to be dogged in their search for answers. Recall that China, as well as Russia, has accused the US of promoting bioweaponry research – and not only in Ukraine. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, “The US has 336 labs in 30 countries under its control, including 26 in Ukraine alone. It should give a full account of its biological military activities at home and abroad and subject itself to multilateral verification.” And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has argued that “the United States, as the party that knows the laboratories best, should release relevant specific information as soon as possible, including what viruses are stored and the research that has been carried out.”
That seems like a perfectly reasonable request: if the US and Ukraine truly have nothing to hide, why not disclose what viruses have been stored and what research has been carried out in Ukraine? And why not submit to independent, international verification of the kind we demanded when Iraq was suspected of creating weapons of mass destruction?
Moreover, why shouldn’t the US welcome Russia and China to submit their alleged evidence to international scrutiny? Russia has called for a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the purported US bioweapons program. If this is merely Russian propaganda distracting from Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, America should have the means to thoroughly demonstrate this fact before the world. It could call for a special Security Council meeting itself.
And meanwhile, let the global community, including the US, call on Russia not to take control of – still less, to damage – Ukraine’s biological research facilities. Let the facilities be isolated, as far as possible, from both parties to the ongoing conflict and from us, and let them be cordoned off (like a crime scene) by some kind of international police force.
If Russia and China are lying, the world needs to know. If the US is lying, the world needs to know that too.