The United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons programmes, the High Representative of Disarmament Affairs told the Security Council at an emergency meeting this morning to address related concerns in Ukraine.
“Situations such as this demonstrate the need to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, referring to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, which entered into force in 1975. Aware of media reports on allegations of biological weapons programmes, she encouraged States parties to the Convention — including the Russian Federation and Ukraine — to consider making use of the available procedures to resolve related issues.
Meanwhile, she highlighted concerns about nuclear power plant safety and security in Ukraine, warning that “the possibility of an accident…is growing by the day”. Expressing extreme concern that four of seven International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safety provisions are reportedly not being implemented at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya, she said the forces in control of these facilities must ensure their safe and secure operation, communications must be restored, and operating staff must be allowed to carry out duties free of undue pressure. Echoing the Secretary-General’s support for efforts to develop an IAEA safety framework for Ukraine’s facilities, she welcomed recent meetings in Turkey he held with the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, called for greater efforts to establish ceasefire arrangements, emphasizing that the logic of dialogue and diplomacy must prevail over the logic of war. As the war grinds on, civilians are bearing the brunt of the fighting, she said, noting that as of today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported a total of 1,546 casualties since the start of the invasion on 24 February, with actual numbers expected to be higher. Most casualties stem from deployed missiles and air strikes amid reports of the use of cluster munitions, she said, emphasizing that aerial bombardment of towns and villages violates international law and constitutes war crimes.
When the floor opened, delegates raised concerns about the potential consequences of the use or threat of use of weapons of mass destruction against the backdrop of the ongoing, broadening war in Ukraine. Delegates called for strict adherence to the Biological Weapons Convention, and some cautioned against deploying a crescendo of false allegations in the Council amid a real conflict that is claiming lives every day.
The Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation had called for today’s meeting because of facts discovered during Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine: an emergency clean-up was undertaken by the Kyiv regime of the traces of a military biological programme funded by the United States. Documents also confirm that Ukraine — with United States support — operates a network of at least 30 biological laboratories, at which dangerous experiments using synthetic biology were being conducted to strengthen the pathogenic qualities of the plague, anthrax, cholera and other lethal diseases, he said.
Calling on his European colleagues to consider a “very real biological danger” of the uncontrolled spread of biological agents from Ukraine, he warned that the risks are real. Noting that his colleagues will likely say this is all fake news and propaganda, he cautioned that, in the event of any incident involving chemical weapons, the Pentagon has told its Ukrainian colleagues to immediately accuse the Russian armed forces.
The United States delegate said: “There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States — not near Russia’s border or anywhere.” The United States Secretary of State has laid out what the Russian Federation would do: fabricate allegations to justify its actions in Ukraine. While Ukraine owns and operates its own public health laboratory infrastructure, making it possible to detect and diagnose such diseases as COVID-19, and the United States has provided assistance to do this safely, she said it has nothing to do with biological weapons.
Given the Russian Federation’s track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations it is perpetrating, she expressed serious concern that it may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people. To the Russian Federation she said: “The world is watching. Photographic and video evidence is mounting, and you will be held to account for your actions. We will not let atrocities slide.”
Albania’s representative said the Russian Federation should not come to the Council with “fantasies and starry-eyed stories”, but with proof. He also noted that the Russian Federation has a long and well-documented record of using chemical weapons, including in attempted assassinations, and supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against the civilian population.
Echoing this view, the United Kingdom’s delegate said the Russian Federation’s conspiracy theory is “utter nonsense”, adding that Moscow “is sinking to new depths today, but the Council must not get dragged down with it”. Similarly, France’s delegate said: “No one is fooled by Russia’s lies.” Indeed, this is not the first time that Moscow is spreading lies to cause confusion, sow fear and cover up its own responsibilities, he said, adding that it is the Russian Federation, not Ukraine, that resorted to using chemical weapons in recent years on European soil.
China’s representative said that any concern about biological weapons should trigger the Council’s attention. In this vein, the Russian Federation’s concerns must be addressed adequately, with the provision of comprehensive clarification and verification.
Ukraine’s delegate expressed concern that the Russian Federation is manipulating the Security Council to the detriment of the organ’s credibility. Indeed, the Russian Federation’s allegations about biological and chemical programmes in his country are dangerous, as Moscow might be contemplating further attacks using those allegations. By calling this meeting, the Russian Federation’s delegate has shot himself in the foot once again, he said, emphasizing that Ukraine runs its health systems in compliance with its international obligations.
Also delivering statements were representatives of India, Mexico, Ghana, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, Kenya and Gabon. The representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States took the floor for a second time.
The meeting began at 11:08 a.m. and ended at 12:59 p.m.