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Russia Speaks against Lugar Center

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Tbilisi-based biological research facility – which it keeps referring to as “Lugar Center” – has again become a target of Russia’s bio-warfare allegations. In its May 26 statement the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over the U.S.-funded medical laboratory in Tbilisi , noting that the Center’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention “raises questions.”

Criticizing the U.S. for “not explaining what it is doing in the close vicinity of the Russian borders,” Moscow said it plans to arrange access for its specialists to the medical research facility, subsidiary of the Georgian Health Ministry’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Moscow said it seeks to organize a visit of the Russian experts to the Lugar Center only in case they are allowed to access all laboratory buildings “including the premises occupied by the American specialists.” It added that Russia will continue working with the U.S. and Georgian authorities to “obtain answers to our questions.”

Noting that “Russian officials and public figures” are pointing out to the lab activities, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lugar Center “carries out studies on the use of insects as carriers of especially dangerous biological agents and pathogens of infections.”

The USD 100 million lab, Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research, 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.

The Georgian health authorities have repeatedly denounced the Russian accusations. Slamming “critical and slanderous statements” directed against the Lugar Center, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili stated on May 1 that “an attack against the laboratory, and spreading fake information will be perceived as as an attempt to discredit Georgia and its achievements.”

The Georgian NCDC stated back in 2018 that the Lugar Center, now fully managed and financed by the Georgian government, fulfils its international obligations for transparency in accordance with the UN Conventions.

In November 2018, pursuant to the Biological Weapons Convention (that Georgia joined in 1996) Georgian authorities arranged the international inspection in the lab attended by a group of 22 experts and observers from 17 countries. The peer-review exercise, that Russia termed as “propaganda exercise” and rejected to join in, then concluded that the lab demonstrates “significant transparency about its activities.”

In its recent report, the Georgian State Security Service said a smear campaign against the Lugar Center represents a textbook case of disinformation. It noted that “large scale information attacks against the research center, as well as propaganda campaign carried out to discredit vaccination and other national healthcare programs pose a direct threat to the Georgian population’s health and security.”

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