Home / Analysis / Russian military press bio-warfare claims, refuse to visit “suspect” Tbilisi facility
Maj.-Gen. Kirilov during press-conference. Source: Russian MoD/TASS

Russian military press bio-warfare claims, refuse to visit “suspect” Tbilisi facility

Officials from the Health Ministry’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) say their Russian colleagues have declined an invitation to visit the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL), just as Moscow has stepped up its scaremongering campaign against this lab, which was built with the U.S. assistance and carries the name of Senator Richard Lugar.

In a statement released on October 5, the Center underscored that although it was built within U.S.-Georgia cooperation, the “Lugar lab” as CPHRL is known, is now fully managed and financed by the Georgian government.

The USD 100 million lab, Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL), named after U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, was opened in Tbilisi outskirts in 2011 to promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection and epidemiological surveillance.

NCDC also emphasized that Georgia honestly fulfils its international obligations for transparency in accordance with the UN Conventions and in that framework, the country would host a peer review compliance exercise on November 14-15 with bio-experts participating from more than 20 states. The National Center stressed that Moscow “categorically rejected” the invitation to participate in this monitoring exercise.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Russian experts won’t participate in what they termed “a propaganda seminar”, which “is being prepared to mislead the international community concerning the true nature of this object.”

The Foreign Ministry also insisted, U.S. is “concealing the true purpose” of the Center and promised to “take this into account” when making national security deliberations.

Propaganda offensive

The exchange came a day after Major-General Igor Kirilov, the Head of the Russian military’s radiation, biological and chemical protection troops, held a special briefing, citing the Moscow-based Igor Giorgadze’s claims against the Lugar lab, that he had documents proving that Georgian citizens have died as a result of “experiments” on “biological and bacterial weapons”.

A decorated Soviet KGB officer with combat experience in Afghanistan, Giorgadze served as Georgia’s security minister in 1993-1995, up to the point when he was implicated in an assassination attempt against erstwhile Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and fled to Moscow. He has been residing there since, and the charges of terrorism against him have not been dropped. In 2000s he has attempted to re-enter Georgian politics with an anti-Western movement. In 2006, members of this movement were arrested and tried for alleged plot to instigate a violent coup, with court passing several prison sentences.

Maj.-Gen. Kirilov gave official credence to Giorgadze’s claims that 73 persons have died as a results of “experiments”. He also identified the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate as the “real” patron of the facility, saying the Georgian specialists are limited in their movements with the lab, and “have no access to the American documents.”

“It is no surprise that the Georgian staff members of the Lugar center do not have information about Pentagon’s covert actions in the lab,” Kirilov stated.

Backing up the official MoD briefing, former Commander of the Russian paratroopers Col.-Gen Vladimir Shamanov, who now heads the Russian’ Duma’s committee on defense, said on October 4, “Russia will take diplomatic and military measures in response to deployment of the large-scale military-biological program of the USA on the territories bordering the Russian Federation, particularly in Georgia”

Amiran Gamkrelidze, who heads the NCDC condemned the Russian statements as the “wave of pure lies and defamation” at a news briefing on October 5 saying it aims at “discrediting the country’s most progressive steps.” He has vociferously denied the allegations of any military-grade experiments.

Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for Russia Ambassador Zurab Abashidze pointed out that he has raised the issue in his regular meeting with his counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, and also encouraged the Russian specialists to join the international exercise in Tbilisi. Abashidze said Moscow is using the issue to divert international attention from the “accusations recently leveled against Russia by the international community and called the allegations against NCDC “a soap bubble, which will be burst very soon.”

Former Deputy FM, currently opposition MP from European Georgia Sergi Kapanadze echoed Abashidze’s statement, saying “it is a common knowledge” that the lab does not have anything in common with production of viruses or experiments of people. Kapanadze said with its “senseless and absurd accusations” Russia tries to mislead its own citizens.

The Embassy of United States in Tbilisi has brushed aside the Russian allegations in a colloquially-phrased statement, which read “we’ve seen those reports in Russian media. They’re nonsense and typical of Russian misinformation and propaganda campaigns.” U.S. encouraged the Russian officials to address the Lugar lab “for further inquiries” and to participate in the “peer review compliance exercise.”

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