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U.N. Security Council rejects Russia's call to probe debunked U.S.-Ukraine biological weapons claims

Biological weapon conspiracy theory explained
Inside the Russian biological weapons conspiracy theory 03:20

United Nations — The U.N.'s 15-nation Security Council voted down on Wednesday a proposal by Russia to create a commission to investigate Moscow's unsubstantiated claims of a joint U.S.-Ukrainian "military biological" program. Russia has leveled allegations since March that programs in Ukraine sponsored by the U.S. Defense Department were in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, an international law regulating weaponized toxins.

Moscow has offered no verifiable proof of such work, and the U.S. Defense Department, the White House and Ukraine have consistently refuted the allegations. The U.N.'s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, said in March that while the global body did not have the capacity to investigate, the U.N. was not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.

"Disinformation, dishonesty, bad faith"

As the Security Council voted Wednesday on the resolution brought by Russia, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington and Ukraine had been "through Russia's allegations in Geneva, point by point, and debunked every single one."

She said Russia's claims were "based on disinformation, dishonesty, bad faith, and a total lack of respect for this body."

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses fellow diplomats during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. Headquarters in New York, November 2, 2022. UNTV/Reuters

"The United States does not have a biological weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States," insisted Thomas-Greenfield.

During a series of U.N. meetings prompted by the Russian allegations, the U.S. has described the non-military biological labs it has supported in Ukraine since the 1990's, including one called the "Biological Threat Reduction Program" that was created to disassemble the former Soviet Union's programs, to "reduce legacy threats from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons left in the Soviet Union's successor states."

CBS News' Chris Livesay is led into Ukraine's Virology Reference Laboratory in Kyiv by Dr. Natalia Vidayko, the lab's chief researcher, May 2022. CBS News

In May, CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay visited the Ukrainian facility at the heart of Russia's disinformation campaign, the Virology Reference Laboratory in Kyiv, and spoke with the chief researcher and scientists whose work there had been dedicated for years to containing dangerous pathogens. The facility has always been regularly inspected by international agencies, including the World Health Organization.

Their work changed abruptly, however, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24 and the shelling began.

"They bombed a building right nearby," Dr. Natalia Vidayko, the lab's top scientist, told Livesay. From that day, the Ukrainian government ordered the lab, and others in the country, to destroy all particularly dangerous biological strains they had in storage, Vidayko said. 

"Rambo" the guard dog on duty outside the Ukrainian Health Ministry's Virology Reference Laboratory in Kyiv, May 2022. CBS News

"They're completely destroyed," she repeated to Livesay, who found minimal security — amounting to one tired old guard dog — when he visited the lab in Kyiv. 

A bio weapons "false flag"? 

Despite the clear flaws with Russia's claims, Moscow brought its draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council this week — embedded within a 310-page document of claims and complaints — calling for a "commission consisting of all members of the Security Council to investigate" the allegations.

Diplomats from Russia and China raise their hands to vote in favor of a resolution brought by Moscow, calling for the United Nations Security Council to investigate Russia's debunked claims of a joint U.S.-Ukrainian biological weapons program, during a Council meeting on November 2, 2022, in New York. UNTV/Reuters

Only Russia and China voted in favor of the measure, with the other three veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, the U.S., U.K. and France, voting against it. The 10 elected members of the Council abstained, so the measure was defeated.

Analysts, Western diplomats and the Pentagon have suggested that Russia's disinformation about the biological labs is really a "false flag," aimed at creating a pretext to blame Ukraine and the U.S. for a possible biological or chemical attack that Russia's own forces could carry out in Ukraine.

President Biden warned in March that Russia would pay a "severe price" if it did use biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Russia's deputy Ambassador to the U.N., Dmitry Polyansky, said his country would take the issue to a U.N. meeting on the biological weapons convention in Geneva, which takes place between November 28 and December 16, claiming the U.S. and Ukraine had "placed themselves above the law."

After Wednesday's vote, U.K. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Russia's claims that Ukraine's Western allies had failed to consider Moscow's evidence were "completely false."

"Russia's allegations have no credible basis in fact," she said.

French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere told diplomats at the Council meeting that Russia "must stop this irresponsible disinformation campaign," dismissing Moscow's "so-called evidence" and insisting that it "deserves no further consideration."

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