Russia’s baseless claims about secret American biological warfare labs in Ukraine are taking root in the U.S. too, uniting COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, QAnon adherents and some supporters of ex-President Donald Trump.
Despite rebuttals from independent scientists, Ukrainian leaders and officials at the White House and Pentagon, the online popularity of the claims suggests some Americans are willing to trust Kremlin propaganda over the U.S. media and government.
Like any effective conspiracy theory, the Russian claim relies on some truths: Ukraine does maintain a network of biological labs dedicated to research into pathogens, and those labs have received funding and research support from the U.S.
But the labs are owned and operated by Ukraine, and the work is not secret. It’s part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Program that aims to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks, whether natural or manmade. The U.S. efforts date back to work in the 1990s to dismantle the former Soviet Union’s program for weapons of mass destruction.