Disarming Disinformation: Our Shared Responsibility

“There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

Disinformation is one of the Kremlin’s most important and far-reaching weapons.  Russia has operationalized the concept of perpetual adversarial competition in the information environment by encouraging the development of a disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.  This ecosystem creates and spreads false narratives to strategically advance the Kremlin’s policy goals.  There is no subject off-limits to this firehose of falsehoods.  Everything from human rights and environmental policy to assassinations and civilian-killing bombing campaigns are fair targets in Russia’s malign playbook.

Truth disarms Russia’s disinformation weapons.  The Kremlin creates and spreads disinformation in an attempt to confuse and overwhelm people about Russia’s real actions in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere in Europe.  Because the truth is not in the Kremlin’s favor, Russia’s intelligence services create, task, and influence websites that pretend to be news outlets to spread lies and sow discord.  Disinformation is a quick and fairly cheap way to destabilize societies and set the stage for potential military action.  Despite having been exposed for engaging in these malign activities countless times, Russia continues to work counter to international norms and global stability.

“We see a significant effort to push propaganda against Ukraine, NATO, and the United States. That includes malign social media operations, the use of overt and covert online proxy media outlets, the infection of disinformation into TV and radio programming, hosting conferences designed to influence attendees into falsely believing that Ukraine – not Russia – is at fault for heightened tensions in the region, and the leveraging of cyber operations to deface media outlets and conduct ‘hack and release’ operations – that is, hacking, and then releasing private data and communications.”

ANTONY J. BLINKEN
SECRETARY OF STATE

Kremlin Disinformation Bulletin

MARCH 14, 2022

Debunking Russia’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Disinformation

The Kremlin’s false allegations of U.S. labs and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats in Ukraine are the latest examples of disinformation we have repeatedly debunked over the years in Ukraine and around the world.  Russia, and earlier, the Soviet Union, has long accused the West of the very CBRN actions it undertakes.  Today, using a network of official spokespeople, state media, proxy sites, and social media, Russia seeks to exploit fears and sensationalize threats to spread their disinformation.

The Kremlin has stepped up its CBRN disinformation campaign, with amplification by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), alleging that foreign owned and operated laboratories working with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program are biological weapon facilities. These laboratories are used for peaceful purposes, playing a vital role in the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and Libya, the reduction of the threat of state and non-state actors acquiring or developing chemical and biological weapons, and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  Independent researchers have authoritatively debunked these false claims.

Ukrainian public and animal health research and diagnostic laboratories help prevent, detect, and mitigate the spread of infectious disease threats in Ukraine.  The Ukrainian government owns and operates all these facilities, and their work is part of the normal efforts of any country to ensure the health and safety of its citizens from infectious disease.

Increasing Kremlin Disinformation on Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Threats in Ukraine

The Kremlin is using its disinformation amplification network to attempt to spread these allegations.  On March 3,  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, under U.S. sanctions for having “advanced the false narrative that Ukraine is the aggressor” in Putin’s war of choice, claimed Ukraine’s public and animal health facilities were “biological military laboratories,” insinuating they represented a threat to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On March 6, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov claimed Russia had proof Ukrainian laboratories were developing biological weapons, without publicly releasing any supporting evidence.

Russian state and proxy media outlets have widely reported these deceptive claims, and on March 8, People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian and PRC state media repeated them. Russian state media then amplified Zhao’s remarks, demonstrating how these dangerous narratives can be echoed, laundered, and amplified.

Another disinformation narrative pushed by Russian state media is that the United States transferred plutonium to help Kyiv develop a “dirty” nuclear weapon. This false narrative has spread widely across Russian state media and outlets linked to U.S.-sanctioned Yevgeniy Prigozhin (e.g. TASSRIA NovostiZvezdaPolitRossiya). The Russian MFA also alleged March 8 that Ukrainian intelligence and Azov Battalion militants had “rigged” a reactor near Kharkiv to stage a provocation then accuse Russian forces of attacking the nuclear facility.

Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem has attempted to justify their unprovoked and brutal war with accusations Ukraine, the United States, or NATO were preparing a chemical disaster in Donbas, using ultrasonic weapons, and even conducting biological experiments on Ukrainian and Georgian soldiers. These claims wrongly try to blame Ukraine for  Putin’s war of choice and divert attention from Russia’s own violations of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Soviet and Russian Biowarfare Activities

According to the 2012 study The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History, while the United States was giving up its offensive biological weapons in the late 1960s, the Soviet government “decided to establish a large biological warfare program that would be driven by newly discovered and powerful biotechnologies.” A 2016 study concluded that “there are no signs that Russia intends to scale back the biological institutes that once directed the Soviet bioweapons program.”

While Russia works hard to push the false narrative the United States is developing biological weapons, it remains secretive about its own activities. In addition to Russia’s own use of chemical weapons, the Kremlin also continues to support the Assad regime in Syria, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons. Russia  has long maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law.

Despite Russia’s lies, the facts are clear — the United States is in compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention and does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere. In contrast, as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has noted, Russia “has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons, including in attempted assassinations and poisoning of Putin’s political enemies like Alexey Navalny.”