The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on May 19 called for strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) by adopting a “legally binding” compliance verification system and an investigative mechanism for alleged use of biological weapons, a claim presumably targetted at the U.S.-funded biological research facilities, including the Lugar Research Center in Tbilisi.
Foreign Ministers of the CSTO member states, Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, stressed in their joint statement that the risk of biological agents being used as weapons has increased since 2001, after talks on the Compliance Protocol under the BWC was suspended.
The CSTO said it opposes conducting voluntary assessment visits at biological research centers as an alternative to undergoing verification under the BWC. Moscow also said in May 2020 it sought to organize a visit by its experts to the Lugar Research Center, to assess its compliance with the Convention.
According to the statement, CSTO member states are ready to “consider any proposals” to enhance the Convention’s capacities at the August 2022 Ninth Review Conference.
The statement comes a week after Russian Council Deputy Secretary Yuri Averyanov vowed Moscow would prepare proposals to counter “threats” associated with the U.S.-funded research centers. According to the Russian official, one of such risks was “deadly microorganisms” being released “as if by accident” in the post-Soviet countries. Commenting on Averyanov’s remarks, Beijing also called for setting up a verification mechanism on May 12, stressing the need to ensure the legitimacy, transparency and security of U.S. “bio-labs.”
The USD 100 million Lugar Research Center was established with U.S. support and funding. It opened in 2011 and operated as a joint Georgian and American facility until 2018, when it was transferred to the Georgian Government, which fully handles its operations since.
The lab has been repeatedly targetted in Kremlin’s bio-warfare allegations, also subjected to disinformation campaigns and a cyberattack in September 2020, which Tbilisi reckoned was launched by a foreign intelligence service.
Tbilisi continued to denounce Moscow’s allegations on biological weapons, and in 2018 requested the BWC to carry out an inspection of the Center. Conducted in November 2018, the review found that the lab demonstrated “significant transparency about its activities.” Tbilisi had invited Russian experts to participate in the site visit, an offer that Moscow “categorically rejected.”
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