Robert Mackey of The Intercept writes that Russian scientists have debunked Russia’s claim that Ukraine has labs to produce biological weapons.

He writes:

AT CONSIDERABLE RISK to their own safety, 10 Russian biologists, including researchers who remain in Russia, have publicly accused the Russian government of lying about having proof that biological weapons were being developed in Ukrainian labs funded by the United States.

According to the biologists, documents presented to the public last week by Russia’s defense ministry as supposed evidence of covert “bioweapons labs” under Pentagon control in Ukraine actually describe relatively harmless collections of pathogens used for public health research. The comprehensive review of the documents by experts who understand both the science and the Cyrillic alphabet took on new importance on Wednesday, as President Vladimir Putin cited the imaginary threat of weapons of mass destruction near Russia’s borders as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

Before the recent crackdown on independent media outlets in Russia, these outlandish claims from Russian defense officials — which were amplified on the global stage by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and its U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya — might have been undercut by interviews with Russian biologists who called the underlying evidence for the allegations transparently false. But because dissenting views have been repressed, and independent broadcasters shut down, Russian scientists have been forced to post their findings on social networks that are mainly blocked in Russia.

The first Russian biologist to make his analysis of the evidence widely known was Eugene Lewitin, who holds advanced degrees in biology from Moscow State University and GosNIIgenetika, a biotechnology research institute. The documents from Ukraine, Lewitin wrote in an open letter posted on Facebook and Change.org, do “not imply any development of biological weapons or even the use of particularly dangerous pathogens in the laboratories. The list of destroyed strains published by RIA Novosti and other Russian media outlets contains not a single particularly dangerous strain. The list contains only strains common to microbiological and even more so to epidemiological laboratories.”

More than 800 signatories endorsed Lewitin’s letter when it was transformed into a petition from Russian biologists urging Russian journalists to stop repeating the government’s “false, absolutely groundless and hatred-inciting statements about allegedly found evidence of the development of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories.”

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