United Nations Unaware of Any Biological Weapons Programmes in Ukraine, Top Disarmament Official Affirms, as Security Council Considers New Claims by Russian Federation
The United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, a senior disarmament affairs official told the Security Council today, as it met to consider new information submitted by the Russian Federation alleging the existence of such weapons.
Briefing the 15-member body, Thomas Markram, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, recalled Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu’s March briefings in which she had stated the above, and affirmed that this still remains the case. Further, he pointed out, the Organization currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information.
Noting that the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction contains several measures of recourse to address situations in which States parties have concerns about the activities of their peers, he highlighted article V of the Convention, according to which States parties can undertake to consult one another and co-operate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the Convention.
He also underscored the importance of operationalizing the Convention so that it is properly equipped and resourced, reminding delegates that the upcoming ninth Review Conference in November and December this year is an ideal opportunity for that.
When the floor opened for Council members, the representative of the Russian Federation said his delegation has accumulated a lot of materials that directly indicate that the United States and Ukraine are violating the Convention by carrying out dangerous biological projects in the centre of Eastern Europe and on the western borders of his country. Highlighting project 3007 in which Ukrainian specialists, supervised by United States colleagues, have carried out collections of water samples from rivers flowing through Ukraine, he said their aim is to establish specific dangerous pathogens and determine their ability to incapacitate.
As soon as the collection of materials is complete, he said, they will be presented to the Council for investigation, so that his country can finally cut off the military-biological activities that threaten international peace and security. Further, given the United States’ refusal to engage in a constructive discussion, he added, his delegation plans to use the mechanisms under articles V and VI of the Biological Weapons Convention.
Countering, the representative of the United States said the Russian Federation repeatedly debases the Council through absurd meetings and ludicrous claims. Highlighting a well-worn pattern in which its authorities accuse others of the very violations it has perpetrated or intends to perpetrate, he said the country used chemical weapons in attempted assassinations while also supporting the Assad regime in Syria, which has repeatedly used such weapons.
The documents circulated by the Russian Federation do not support its allegations, he said, calling on that country to publicly and unequivocally state that its forces and its proxies will not use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or anywhere else.
“Let’s be serious here and come back to facts,” France’s delegate said, stressing that the Russian Federation is using the Council as a platform for propaganda. In 2011, that country accused Georgia of developing biological weapons without any evidence, he said, also expressing concern that this disinformation campaign is a prelude to the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
All States parties should abide by the objectives of the Biological Weapons Convention, China’s delegate said, urging “one particular country that has not yet destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons to do so as soon as possible.” He also highlighted the need for an impartial and professional multilateral verification system, noting that the ninth Review Conference is a chance to restart negotiations towards this and enhance global biosecurity.
Other delegates also stressed the important window of opportunity offered by the Conference, with Brazil’s representative pointing out that the absence of a verification mechanism for the Convention hobbles the transparency of international biosecurity research initiatives. The international community must resume negotiations with a view to adopting a protocol that implements the Convention and contributes to building trust among parties about the exclusively peaceful use of such technologies, he stressed.
Along similar lines, Mexico’s delegate stressed the importance of safeguarding the peaceful uses of biological research. It is necessary to promote all synergies between the Convention and other regimes for export control, public health and animal health in order to develop coherent public policies, she pointed out.
Ghana’s delegate struck a sobering note, reminding delegates of the all-too-real risk of a nuclear exchange, and the catastrophic consequences that would be felt in Europe and far beyond. With any instance of threat of use or the potential use of biological or chemical weapons, impartial investigations conducted by internationally recognized and mandated bodies should be the only way to establish the facts. Calling on both parties to avoid the deliberate or accidental release of chemical or biological agents, she underscored the need for diplomacy and constructive dialogue.
Also speaking were representatives of Albania, Gabon, Norway, Kenya, India, United Kingdom, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:06 p.m.
THOMAS MARKRAM, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, noting that the Russian Federation has submitted new information regarding allegations of biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, recalled that Under‑Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu had informed the Council in her 11 and 18 March briefings, that the United Nations was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. “This remains the case today,” he added, stressing that the Organization currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information. The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, which the United States, Russian Federation and Ukraine are States parties of, he pointed out, does contain several measures of recourse in order to address situations in which States parties have concerns or suspicions about the activities of their peers.
Highlighting one such measure, he noted that, pursuant to article V of the Convention, States parties can undertake to consult one another and to co-operate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the Convention. Encouraging any State party with compliance concerns to use such procedures, he reaffirmed the commitment of the Office for Disarmament Affairs to the Convention. Further, the Convention needs to be operationalized and institutionalized to ensure it is properly equipped and resourced to face future challenges, he said, adding that the upcoming ninth Review Conference in November and December this year presents an ideal opportunity for that.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his delegation has asked for a meeting on the military biological activities of Ukraine for the third time due to worrying documentary evidence that the United States Department of Defense is directly involved in carrying out dangerous biological projects that look like a secret biological military programme. Those activities are being carried out in the centre of Eastern Europe and on the western borders of the Russian Federation, he said, posing a threat to the biosecurity of his country, the region and the world. There is no information on this in the reporting stipulated by the Biological Weapon Convention from Ukraine or from the United States, as confirmed by Mr. Markram. “Preventing that dangerous activity is possible only through our special military operation,” he underscored.
He went on to say that, in the two months that have passed since the previous meeting, his delegation has received much new evidence and those materials have been presented to the Security Council. Drawing the Council’s attention to the most salient information, he said that, with respect to documentation on project 3007 related to proliferation in Ukraine of dangerous water-borne diseases, Ukrainian specialists under the supervision of United States colleagues have regularly carried out collections of water samples from rivers flowing through Ukraine, with the aim of establishing specific dangerous pathogens, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and E, and evaluating how they spread through the waters in order to determine their ability to incapacitate.
Referring to other evidence indicating efforts by Ukraine to use biological and chemical substances and United States support to fund bioweapons activities in Ukraine, he said the United States has repeatedly refused to explain the nature and aims of its activities in Ukraine. His delegation has accumulated a lot of materials that directly indicates that those two countries are violating the Biological Weapons Convention and will continue to collect and analyse those materials. Given the United States’ refusal to engage in a constructive discussion on the topic, his delegation plans to use the mechanisms under articles V and VI of the Biological Weapons Convention. As soon as the collection of materials is complete, they will be presented to the Council for investigation, he said, expressing hope that that would allow the Russian Federation to finally cut off the military‑biological activities that threaten international peace and security and bring those responsible to account.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), noting that the Council is meeting for the fourth time and being presented the same unverified, uncorroborated, unsubstantiated, non-factual claims for a non-existent biological programme in Ukraine, said attempts to use the Council for propaganda purposes and divert attention from the terrible reality of crimes committed in Ukraine must stop. The Russian Federation knows better regarding chemical weapons and their use, he said, adding that “its protégé, the Syrian Government”, used them against rebel forces. Recalling instances of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, he said issues related to chemical and biological weapons should never be taken lightly. The Biological Weapons Convention and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction contain precise measures and protocols to which concerned States parties can have recourse to address situations for any suspicious activity. Therefore, if there were reasonable doubts for any allegation on any biological programme in Ukraine, the Russian Federation, as a State party to the Biological Weapons Convention, may take those issues to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), address them properly and professionally by providing the opportunity to international and independent experts to investigate.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), recalling how the 11 March meeting quickly turned into an exchange of accusations, stressed that the Council must not become the epicentre of fear and unending cycles of intimidation and propaganda. Expressing concern about the hardening of positions and verbal warfare in the Council, he pointed out that innumerable civilians are dying because of the body’s inaction. Appealing to the parties to restrain from using biological weapons, he highlighted articles V and VI of the Biological Weapons Convention, as well as Council resolution 620 (1980). Stressing the importance of an impartial investigation into the allegations just raised, he called for diplomatic engagement towards a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), stressing that the Russian Federation is once again using the Council as a platform for propaganda to justify an unjustifiable war, said: “Let’s be serious here and come back to facts.” The United Nations has no information on this subject, he said, adding that repeated dissemination of false information will not transform these allegations into a reality. Recalling that, in 2011, the Russian Federation accused Georgia of developing biological weapons without any evidence, he said it has also repeatedly campaigned against the OPCW in order to protect its Syrian ally. Expressing concern that this disinformation campaign is a prelude to the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, he pointed out that the Convention provides procedures for consultations with States parties.
CAROLYN OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) said that, in any instance of threat of use or the potential use of biological or chemical weapons, the independent and impartial investigations conducted by internationally recognized and mandated bodies should be the only way to establish the facts. The cruelty associated with the use of biological agents and toxins as instruments of war and the fact that related diseases would not confine themselves to national borders justify the prohibition of Member States under the Biological Weapons Convention from the use of biological agents and toxins as war instruments. She called on both parties to exercise restraint and avoid the deliberate or accidental release of chemical or biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction, given the immeasurable risk those weapons pose to the lives of civilians and the environment. The risk of a nuclear exchange is real and will be catastrophic for the whole planet, she stressed, noting that the effects would not only be felt in Europe, but around the world. She called on all actors to uphold their obligations and commitments under international law and international humanitarian law, underscoring that a sustainable solution to the conflict can only be reached through diplomacy and constructive dialogue among the parties and stakeholders.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) stated that the Russian Federation is once again using the Council as a platform for blatant disinformation and to draw attention away from its unprovoked, unjustified, irresponsible — and frankly brutal — warfare in Ukraine. Stressing that her country is a firm supporter of the Biological Weapons Convention and determined to uphold the total ban against biological weapons, she said that, once again, the Russian Federation has failed to offer any credible evidence for its accusations regarding the development of biological weapons in Ukraine, providing instead unsubstantiated claims and mere insinuations. “If Russia is serious about these accusations, they should use the proper procedure under the Biological Weapons Convention, and provide fact-based evidence,” she said. Reiterating Norway’s condemnation of the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, she demanded it immediately end its aggression, withdraw its troops and stop causing death, suffering and destruction.
JAYNE TOROITICH (Kenya) said that any allegation of breach of the Biological Weapons Convention, to which her country is State party, must not be taken lightly. All States parties must make the necessary efforts to strengthen the biological weapons regime and the norms that safeguard humanity from the threat of use of those weapons, she said, calling on all States parties to the Convention to make use of the established mechanisms to ensure no ambiguity on the presence of those weapons. Noting the grave cost of the war in Ukraine to its people, the entire region and the world, she called on the Council to focus on finding a path to peace, urging a cessation and meaningfully safe humanitarian passages for trapped civilians particularly in eastern Ukraine.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), stressing that the use of biological weapons would be repugnant to the conscience of humanity, noted that article V of the Biological Weapons Convention stresses the importance of cooperation and consultation between States parties. Unfortunately, the Convention does not have a mechanism for verification, she pointed out, adding that the next Review Conference is an opportunity to provide the agreement with such a mechanism. Also stressing the importance of safeguarding the peaceful uses of biological research, she said it is necessary to promote all synergies between the Convention and other regimes for export control, public health and animal health in order to develop coherent public policies.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said his country attaches high importance to the Biological Weapons Convention as a key global and non-discriminatory disarmament convention, prohibiting an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. Any matter relating to obligations under the Convention should be addressed as per the provisions and through consultations and cooperation between the parties concerned, he said. Underscoring the need for negotiation of a comprehensive and legally binding protocol, providing for an effective, universal and non-discriminatory verification mechanism to strengthen States parties’ implementation of the Convention, he reiterated his country’s deep concern about the worsening situation in Ukraine, and voiced support for the efforts of the Secretary-General’s good offices.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom) said that the current meeting is a complete waste of the Council’s time. These disruptive tactics by the Russian Federation prove that “they know as well as we do that none of their excuses for invading Ukraine have any basis whatsoever”, he stressed.
CAIT MORAN (Ireland) said there can be no impunity for those who use biological agents or toxins, or as instruments of war. In that regard, the international community must collectively uphold the international legal norm against such weapons, she said, noting that her country looks forward to the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference and will work with States parties to further strengthen that key instrument. Expressing grave concern that the Russian Federation continues to use biological weapons to justify unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, she said that, despite the large amount of material shared by the Russian Federation, no substantive or credible evidence has been presented to support its allegations. Instead, the Council sees baseless and unfounded claims against Ukraine and others, including the United States, to paint itself as the victim in the face of its horrific actions in Ukraine. The Russian Federation must stop seeking to use the Council as a platform for its disinformation. Underscoring that its actions risk undermining essential multilateral disarmament and non‑proliferation instrument, as well as peaceful, legitimate cooperation and research supporting public health, she called on the Russian Federation to immediately end its hostilities, unconditionally withdraw from the entire territory of Ukraine and refrain from further threat or use of force of any kind against Ukraine or any other State.
DAI BING (China), stressing that his country is opposed to the development, stockpiling or use of biological and chemical weapons by any country, urged “one particular country that has not yet destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons to do so as soon as possible”. All States parties should scrupulously abide by the objectives of the Biological Weapons Convention, he said, underscoring the need for an impartial, independent and professional multilateral verification system. The ninth Review Conference at the end of this year is an opportunity for States parties to restart negotiations regarding a verification protocol and effectively enhance global biosecurity, he said. Welcoming an assessment of the documents disclosed by the Russian Federation under the framework of the Convention, he said the priority is to step up efforts to stop hostilities.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said any allegations concerning the existence of biological weapons must be thoroughly substantiated with evidence. Recalling that the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention established clear obligations binding upon all State parties to not develop, produce or acquire such weapons, he expressed regret that, years later, the international community still has not agreed on a multilateral mechanism to verify compliance. The absence hobbles the transparency of international biosecurity research initiatives, he pointed out, voicing support for the resumption of negotiations with a view to adopting a protocol that implements the Convention and contributes to building trust among parties about the exclusively peaceful use of such technologies. Until such a protocol is adopted, State parties must cooperate with each other by sharing the widest possible range of information on research topics related to the objectives of the Convention, he stressed.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), Council President for May, speaking in his national capacity, said the Russian Federation is once again using the Security Council as a platform to spout disinformation and conspiracy theories against Ukraine, even as it continues its brutal and inhumane assault on the Ukrainian people. The Russian Federation repeatedly debases the Council through absurd meetings and endless claims about chemical and biological weapons programmes in Ukraine that are categorically false and ludicrous, he said, noting that they follow a well-worn pattern in which Russian authorities accuse others of the very violations the country has perpetrated or intends to perpetrate. Referring to the Russian Federation’s claims about poisoned bank notes and secret treatment on psychiatric prisoners, he said: “What is not fiction and must not be forgotten is that the Russian Federation has a long and well‑documented track record of using chemical weapons including an attempted assassinations and the poisoning of Putin’s political enemies.”
He went on to say that it is the Russian Federation that continues to support the Assad regime in Syria, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons, and has long maintained a well-documented biological weapons programme in violation of international law. Any use of chemical or biological weapons by the Russian Federation will result in severe consequences. "We expect the Russian Government to publicly and unequivocally state that Russian forces and its proxies will not use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or anywhere ever in accordance with its international legal obligations.” Even documents circulated by the Russian Federation do not support their allegations, he said, pointing to its attempts to distract the Council from the violence it is perpetrating in Ukraine. “The United States is not fooled, nor are Council members and we are not going to look away. We will continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable and call on Putin to end the war of choice,” he concluded.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that, once again, there are attempts to divert the discussion, move the focus from the subject initially raised by his country, and to mix chemical and biological weapons, adding that those are different things. “We are talking about specific facts that we have uncovered and specific documents that indicate that biological labs in Ukraine, in working with the United States, are carrying out biological programmes,” he said. Pointing to the several hundred documents distributed by his delegation, he underscored that there are specific data, cases, companies and people involved. "If you think that is not enough, then what is evidence to you?”, he asked, urging the United States to provide information or clarification about the nature or real aims of its biological activities in Ukraine.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) thanked Council members for their expressions of condolence regarding the death of his country’s President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.