United Nations Not Aware of Any Biological Weapons Programmes in Ukraine, Senior Disarmament Affairs Official Tells Security Council
Delegate Says Actions by Russian Federation Risk Undermining Essential Multilateral Disarmament, Non-proliferation Instruments
Speakers in the Security Council warned today against using disarmament and non-proliferation instruments to undermine multilateral cooperation, as the Russian Federation accused Ukraine and the United States of conducting biological weapons programmes and demanded an investigation.
Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, noting that the Russian Federation has filed an official complaint in line with the provisions of article VI of the Biological Weapons Convention regarding allegations of biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, reiterated that the United Nations is unaware of any such biological weapons programmes. He also pointed out that the Organization currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this.
Recalling that the provisions of article VI of the Convention have never been invoked, he underlined that the article does not provide any guidance on the type of investigation that the Council may initiate. While highlighting that States Parties have also not developed any specific guidance or procedures concerning the modalities, he added that the Office for Disarmament Affairs stands ready to support should the Council initiate an investigation.
The representative of the Russian Federation stated that its longstanding concerns pertain to military and biological activities carried out by the United States Department of Defense in facilities in Ukraine close to his country’s border, adding that documents unearthed during its special operation in Ukraine revealed the true nature of the Pentagon’s activities. He stated that the Pentagon had funded 30 Ukrainian laboratories by 2020, and that a facility in Odessa had collected pathogens of dangerous infectious disease, with the possibility of spreading through birds, bats and mosquitoes.
China’s delegate, echoing that point, stated that the information on biological military activities provided by the Russian Federation “deserves a corresponding response” by relevant parties, who should fulfil their obligations under the Convention. Regretting that the formal consultative meeting held under article V of the Convention in September had failed to answer the questions raised by Moscow, he proposed that the international community consider invoking article VI to facilitate the establishment of a verification mechanism to ensure the Convention’s authority and effectiveness.
The representative of the United States reiterated that her country does not have a biological weapons programme nor does it support any Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories. Responding to the Russian Federation’s delegate, she said that “much like Russia, birds and bats don’t tend to observe or respect sovereign borders”. It is Moscow that has maintained a biological weapons programme, with a well-documented history of using chemical weapons and siding with the Syrian regime on its use, she said.
Ukraine’s delegate, reiterating that her country has never developed, produced or stored biological or chemical weapons, pointed out that the majority of States parties at the formal consultative meeting in September had found the presentations by her country and the United States to be accurate and persuasive, while all allegations by the Russian Federation were rejected. While Kyiv has requested numerous times for Moscow to provide the information on the location and status of the biomaterials from public health laboratories in occupied parts of Ukraine, she highlighted that no answer has been received.
Albania’s representative, noting that today’s meeting could have been called “Security Council briefing on nothing,” said that the only way to verify Moscow’s claims is to use the mechanisms and established procedures that are already in place. Expressing concern over the dissemination of false information that fails to meet scientific parameters, he said that the documents presented by the Russian Federation presented no tangible evidence of violations of the Convention.
Ireland’s representative, expressing concern over Moscow’s lodging of a complaint with the Council under article VI of the Biological Weapons Convention, said that further investigation in this regard is neither warranted nor useful. He went on to state that its actions risk undermining essential multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation instruments and constitute an attack on legitimate cooperation and research supporting public health in Ukraine and in other countries around the world.
Mexico’s delegate, recalling that the prerequisite for the Council to consider an investigation is credible evidence, underscored that since the Office for Disarmament Affairs has found no evidence, the issue should be brought to the attention at the ninth Review Conference of the Convention which is due to take place in November.
Ghana’s representative underscored the need to establish an implementation body for the Convention as a means of encouraging compliance and transparency. Imploring both parties to adhere to the international humanitarian law and the Convention, she added: “The use of biological agents and toxins and other weapons of mass destruction as instruments of war is ruthlessly inhumane, can never be confined to national borders, will leave no winners and should, therefore, not be even contemplated.”
Also speaking today were representatives of Norway, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Kenya, France, Brazil, India and Gabon.
The Council meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:25 p.m.
ADEDEJI EBO, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, noting that the Russian Federation has filed an official complaint in line with the provisions of article VI of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention) regarding allegations of biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, said that the United Nations is not aware of any such programmes. He added that the Organization currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information. Recalling that the relevant instrument of international law is the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, he noted that both the Russian Federation and Ukraine are States parties to the Convention.
He recalled that on 29 June, the Russian Federation submitted a request for the convening of a formal consultative meeting under article V of the Convention as well as the Final Declarations of the Convention’s Second and Third Review Conferences. Following an informal meeting, the formal consultative meeting opened on 26 August for a brief procedural meeting, then resumed on 5 September for a period of four days. While States welcomed that the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States sought to clarify their positions, the meeting concluded with States parties adopting a report which stated that no consensus was reaching regarding the meeting’s outcome.
Turning to article VI, he said that its provisions have not been invoked since the Convention’s entry into force. He shared that the article states that any State party to the Convention which finds that any other State party is acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council. Also, each State party undertakes to cooperate in carrying out any investigation which the Council may initiate, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, based on the complaint received by the Council. In this regard, he said that the Convention does not provide any guidance on the type of investigation that the Council may initiate, while States parties have also not developed any specific guidance or procedures concerning the modalities.
On that note, he added that should the Council initiate an investigation, the Office for Disarmament Affairs stands ready to support it. He recalled the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs’ comment that the Convention’s operations and institutional structures must be further bolstered to ensure it is properly equipped and resourced to face future challenges, adding that the Convention’s upcoming ninth Review Conference in November and December is an ideal opportunity for States parties to comprehensively strengthen the Convention.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said he requested to convene the Council meeting under article VI of the Biological Weapons Convention to consider the complaint circulated in the Council on October 24 (document S/2022/796), which contains evidence of non-compliance of the Convention by Ukraine and the United States. The Russian Federation’s longstanding concerns pertain to military and biological activities carried out by the Department of Defense of the United States in facilities far from the North American continent and close to the Russian border, he said, adding that the Pentagon’s Threat Reduction Agency carries such activities out in conjunction with private companies, and as such constitute a direct threat to his country’s biological security. Documents unearthed during the Russian Federation’s special operation in Ukraine revealed the true nature of the Pentagon’s activities and contacts with Ukraine, which have been provided in detail to the Council, he said, adding that an analysis proves non-compliance with the provisions of the Convention.
Ahead of taking the decision to convene the Council meeting, the Russian Federation did everything it could to settle the situation in a multilateral and bilateral format, he continued, stating that letters were sent to the United States and Ukraine to provide exhaustive answers to these concerns; however, no urgent measures were taken by Washington, D.C., and Kyiv in this regard. He outlined actions subsequently undertaken by his country, including requesting a consultative meeting under article V of the Convention at the end of June, accompanied by “a great volume of documents”. Meetings were then held on 26 August and between 5-9 September, during which every effort was taken by the Russian Federation to resolve issues, hoping they would stimulate Washington, D.C., and Kyiv to introduce measures to rectify the situation. “However, the overwhelming majority of our claims were not reacted to.” Therefore, he said, in line with article VI of the Convention, the Russian Federation turned to the Security Council to lodge a complaint stating that the United States and Ukraine are not in compliance with the Convention.
He went on to state that the complaint contains evidence of its validity, citing in this regard excerpts concerning “dangerous pathogens” and infectious disease from the 2005 agreement between the Department of Defense of the United States and Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, titled “On Cooperation to Prevent the Spread of Technologies, Pathogens and Information That Can Be Used for the Development of Biological Weapons”. By 2020, the number of Ukrainian laboratories funded by the Pentagon reached 30, located across 14 towns and villages, he continued, adding that the activities conducted by them were closed in nature. Pointing to vials containing cholera and anthrax pathogens collected by the Anti-Plague Research Institute in Odessa, he said that, given the absence of mass outbreaks in Ukraine, these accumulated volumes are unlikely to be used for peaceful purposes. Stating that such collections include pathogens of dangerous infectious disease, he described research exploring the possibility of spreading such diseases through migratory birds and bats, which can be considered as means of delivery. He went on to state that on 9 March, Russian armed forces recovered from Kherson Oblast containers that could be used to spray bioagents, and also pointed to a certain United States patent involving the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle to distribute infected mosquitoes, which could be used to harm army personnel. It is to investigate such claims, concerning the non-compliance of biological laboratories in Ukraine, that his country has submitted a draft resolution in line with article VI of the Convention to the Council, he said, adding that he hoped the draft will be expeditiously agreed and pass in order to “rectify the unacceptable situation”.
MONA JUUL (Norway), expressing regret that the Council is being used again as a “stage for the Russian disinformation theatre,” said that her country is determined to uphold a total ban on biological weapons. While the Government of Norway has meticulously assessed the documents provided by the Russian Federation and listened carefully to the exchanges during the formal consultations under article V of the Biological Weapons Convention, she emphasized that contrary to Moscow’s assertions, the documentation strongly suggests that the cited cooperation between the United States and Ukraine had a legitimate, peaceful purpose. Noting that it is “intolerable” that the Russian Federation repeatedly uses the Convention’s mechanisms to criticize international assistance, she pointed to the need to speak out forcefully and resolutely against attempts to falsely frame peaceful cooperation and assistance activities as a form of non-compliance. Spotlighting that Moscow has repeatedly made allegations concerning Ukraine, including the recent claim that Kiev is preparing to use a “dirty bomb,” she concluded that this is another example of the Russian Federation’s attempt to spread confusion through false narratives and is a reckless escalation of its rhetoric on weapons of mass destruction.
AMEIRAH ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), stressing that the Council must be unified in sending a clear message that any use of biological, chemical, or other weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Biological Weapons Convention. According to this Convention, biological weapons must never be developed, produced, stockpiled, acquired, retained, or transferred. Recalling also the importance of facilitating the research of biological agents for peaceful purposes, she encouraged all States parties to the Convention to resolve their disagreements through constructive dialogue. Calling for a cessation of hostilities throughout Ukraine and finding a diplomatic solution to this conflict, she added that dialogue is the only sustainable way to avoid the dangerous path that the international community finds itself on.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said that since its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the Russian Federation has repeatedly spread disinformation, including wild claims involving dirty bombs, chemical weapons and offensive biological research. "How much more of this nonsense do we need to endure?” she asked, recalling that the Russian Federation’s allegations received a full hearing last month, according to the processes set out under article V of the Biological Weapons Convention, where 89 States parties listened as Russia delivered nothing but misrepresentations of assorted public documents and copy and pasted images from Wikipedia. Underscoring the other States parties’ clear and overwhelming response, she stressed that the Russian Federation must end its aggression and disinformation campaign against Ukraine. Moreover, it must stop demonizing legitimate peaceful scientific and technical cooperation, which all States parties to the Convention have a right to participate in under article X of the Convention. “The bar has not been met for further investigation and proposals for further action would be a waste of this Council’s time,” she said. Instead of attempting to smear Ukraine, the Russian Federation should focus on its own obligations, including the United Nations Charter, and end this war, she added.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), noting that the name of this meeting could have been “Security Council briefing on nothing,” said that issues concerning weapons of mass destruction are very important and the Council should always be ready to do the right thing. However, “there has to be a case and we don't find it,” he said, questioning whether the Council has nothing better to do than succumb to the Russian Federation’s incurable obsession. The only way to verify claims is to use the mechanisms and established procedures that are already in place, he said, expressing concern about the dissemination of false information that does not meet any scientific parameters. The documents presented by the Russian Federation do not present any tangible evidence of violations of the Convention, he said, and recalling the deadly mosquitoes mentioned by that country’s delegate, he asked: “I wonder how those mosquitos would be able to distinguish between Russians and Ukrainians.”
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that her country has no biological weapons programme. Moreover, there are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States. Ukraine does own and operate a public health laboratory infrastructure, as do many countries that seek to guard themselves from infectious diseases, she said, noting that those facilities make it possible to detect and diagnose diseases. Referring to the Russian Federation’s concerns that biological weapons can be delivered by birds and bats and even mosquitoes, she said the Russian Federation knows that public health laboratories routinely study migratory animal species to assess and counter animal borne pathogens. “Bear in mind that much like Russia, birds and bats don’t tend to observe or respect sovereign borders,” she said. Moreover, even if those species could be weaponized, they would pose as much a threat to the European continent and to Ukraine itself as they would to any other country. It is Moscow that has long maintained a biological weapons programme, as well as a well-documented history of using chemical weapons and shielding the Assad regime which has repeatedly used chemical weapons, she said. There should be an investigation into whether the Russian Federation illegally procured Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles, she continued, pointing out that “we have ample evidence of our claims”, unlike the Russian Federation which has nothing but bizarre conspiracies.
CAROLYN ABENA ANIMA OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) said that independent and impartial investigations, conducted by the internationally recognized and mandated bodies, should be the only way to establish the facts in reports concerning the threat of use or the potential use of biological or chemical weapons. Underscoring the need to establish an implementation body for the Biological Weapons Convention as a means of encouraging compliance and transparency, she urged the international community to establish a verification regime for the Convention in light of recent global developments such as the COVID‑19 pandemic as well as the continuous deterioration of international security. Voicing concerned over the increasing prospect of the use of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, she implored both parties to adhere to international laws and instruments such as international humanitarian law and the Biological Weapons Convention. “The use of biological agents and toxins and other weapons of mass destruction as instruments of war is ruthlessly inhumane, can never be confined to national borders, will leave no winners and should, therefore, not be even contemplated,” she said.
TRACY WANJIRU MBABU (Kenya) reaffirmed her country’s support for the Biological Weapons Convention and reiterated its call to all States parties to the Convention to make use of the established mechanisms to ensure there is no ambiguity on the presence of these extremely dangerous weapons. Reiterating the need for restraint and an immediate de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine, she said that Kenya will continue to seek a peaceful solution for the conflict, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), noting that the Council was seized of the same topic in March and May 2022, also drew attention to the convening of the consultations provided by article V of the Convention, in Geneva in September. These consultations did not conclude by affirming that any violations of the Convention took place, he said, adding that the Office for Disarmament Affairs has also indicated that it has no evidence regarding any activities in Ukraine that violate the Convention. The prerequisite for the Council to consider an investigation is the requitement of possession of credible evidence, he said, adding that since the Office for Disarmament Affairs has stated multiple times that it has no evidence, the issue should be brought to the attention of the ninth Review Conference of the Convention which is due to take place next month.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) condemned the Russian Federation’s “umpteenth attempt” to make the Council forget its violation of the United Nations Charter, as well as its use of the Council as a propaganda platform to claim once again that there are offensive biological programmes in Ukraine. The United Nations has clearly stated, on several occasions and again today, that it has no information on this subject. Moreover, the evidence provided by the Russian Federation was examined in detail by the States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention who met in Geneva in September, he said, adding that the absurdity of such evidence was technically demonstrated. Noting the Russian Federation’s request to set up an ad hoc commission for the investigation of the same unfounded allegations, he said: “We all know that it is Russia, and not Ukraine, which used chemical weapons in recent years, and which covered up for years the Syrian regime, which used them against their own people.” Voicing concern that that Russian Federation’s disinformation campaign may be a prelude to the use of a weapon of mass destruction in Ukraine, he rejected any and all pretext for an escalation from that country, urging the Council to concentrate all its efforts on preserving the Convention so that those weapons are never used in the future.
GENG SHUANG (China), noting that his country opposes research, development, stockpiling or the use of biological weapons by any country under any circumstances, said that States parties should strictly observe the objectives and principles of the Biological Weapons Convention. Information on biological military activities provided by the Russian Federation deserves a corresponding response by relevant parties, he said, calling on them to take a responsible attitude in effectively fulfilling their obligations under the Convention. Expressing regret that the formal consultative meeting in September had failed to answer the questions raised by Moscow, he suggested that the international community may wish to consider invoking article VI of the Convention to facilitate the establishment of the verification mechanism as a means to ensure its authority and effectiveness. He also expressed hope that the Convention’s upcoming ninth Review Conference in November will be an opportunity to further strengthen the confidence-building mechanism.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland) said that it is regrettable that the Russian Federation again brings its baseless and unfounded claims against Ukraine and the United States regarding legitimate public health cooperation and research. Despite the material shared by the Russian Federation, no substantive or credible evidence has been presented to support its allegations, which was also the case at the article V formal consultative meeting of the Biological Weapons Convention. That meeting was a misuse of the provisions of the Convention by Moscow, he added. He commended the substantive responses delivered by Ukraine and the United States to the Russian Federation’s allegations, which set out that its activities represent peaceful cooperation and research. However, he expressed grave concern with Russia’s lodging of a complaint with the Council under article VI of the Convention, emphasizing that further investigation in this regard is neither warranted nor useful. He went on to state that the Russian Federation’s actions risk undermining essential multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation instruments and constitute an attack on legitimate cooperation and research supporting public health in Ukraine and in other countries around the world.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) took note of the concerns presented by the Russian Federation regarding alleged biological weapons in Ukraine, as well as the arguments and draft resolution put forth in this regard. Given that it is the first time such a compliant has been brought forth under article VI of the Biological Weapons Convention, it is important to establish a procedure if such issues arise in the future, he said, adding that substantive, solid evidence should be produced if an investigation does proceed. He went on to reaffirm Brazil’s commitment to the resumption of negotiations on a binding protocol on strengthening the implementation of the Convention, and that next meeting of the States parties should engage in such discussions.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), stressing the importance of full and effective implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, underlined the important role of international cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities and related exchange of scientific and technical information. This is especially crucial for generating equitable benefits for all States parties, including developing countries, he said. The current situation reflects the need to negotiate a comprehensive legally binding protocol that provides for an effective, universal and non-discriminatory verification mechanism to strengthen the implementation of the Convention by States parties. He went on to express concern about the worsening situation in Ukraine and urged both sides to return to the path of diplomacy and dialogue.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, called for strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention regime and equipping it with verification and monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance by States parties with its relevant provisions. He further called for a transparent, impartial and independent inquiry to be conducted into the allegations made. Gabon opposes the use of any weapons of mass destruction, he affirmed, calling on the international community to do all it can to put an end to the war in Ukraine by engaging in good faith negotiations for the achievement of lasting peace between the parties. Stressing the need to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of civilians, he urged all parties to refrain from any provocative posture or deception so as not to compromise the quest for a diplomatic solution.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, said that many Council members accused his country of false alarms, misinformation and distracting them from tackling more important issues, yet none of them responded to the substance of his interventions. Addressing some Western colleagues, he said it is strange that they cannot tell the difference between chemical and biological weapons. To the representative of the United Kingdom, who said his country’s claims have been considered and rejected, he said: “By whom? By you? Your opinions are gospel truth, so clearly, it’s resolved.” None of the responses have been able to answer simple questions put forth by his country pertaining to why the United States, backed by the Pentagon, is engaged in such activities. To the United States’ delegate, who cited statements by the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs as proof of the absence of such activities in Ukraine, he said: “Do they think we are so naïve as to think the United States will tell them about secret biological programmes in Ukraine?” He went on to state that his country invoked article V of the Convention, received no answers, and then invoked article VI. “If you don’t like it, it doesn’t make our actions illegitimate,” he said, adding: “You have no right to ignore them and shift the focus to your political assessments.”
KHRYSTYNA HAYOVYSHYN (Ukraine), calling today’s meeting a “deliberate misuse of the Security Council’s responsibility of maintenance of international peace and security,” said it is obvious that the Russian Federation wants to divert attention from the massive crimes committed in the territory of Ukraine. She reiterated that her country has never developed, produced or stored biological or chemical weapons, nor does it possess infrastructure to do so. She further emphasized that its health laboratories are exclusively for the sake of public health and veterinary protection, and that there are no so-called “American laboratories”. Recalling the formal consultative meeting of States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention held in September, she said that the overwhelming majority of 89 States parties had found the presentations by her country and the United States to be accurate and persuasive, while all allegations by the Russian Federation were rejected. She then recalled Ukraine’s readiness to receive a group of international independent experts to its public health facilities. She went on to say that while Kiev has requested Moscow numerous times to provide the international community with information on the location and status of biomaterials from public health laboratories in occupied parts of Ukraine, no answer has been received so far.