In a series of increasingly confrontational statements, Russia has suggested that the Pentagon is establishing a chain of bio-weapons labs on its borders. At the heart of the accusations is the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in the Republic of Georgia. Named after US Senator Richard Lugar, who initiated the renovation of lab networks in former Soviet states, the Lugar Center became operational in 2013. It has the first high-containment laboratory in the region that meets Biosafety Level 3 standards, meaning it is equipped to study serious or lethal human diseases, and it serves Georgia and the wider region with detection and diagnostic capacity for disease outbreaks.
The Russian charges that the Lugar Center and other biological labs in the Caucasus and Central Asia are making banned bioweapons are unfounded. Last week a group of international experts, including this author, visited the Lugar Center by invitation of the Georgian government. We were given access to all areas of the site, examined relevant documentation, and interviewed staff, and concluded that the Center demonstrates significant transparency. Our group observed nothing out of the ordinary, or that we wouldn’t expect to see in a legitimate facility of this sort.
The Russian allegations appear to be part of a disinformation campaign that has grown in response to scrutiny of Moscow for using and enabling the use of chemical weapons. It is also likely that part of Russia’s goal is to discredit Western influence in former Soviet states by spreading fear and dividing public opinion. The charges are probably aimed at a domestic audience as well, as a biological weapons threat on Russia’s doorstep could motivate military investments to counter it.