Long before Vladimir Putin sent the tanks over the border into Ukraine, he began building a propaganda case that has helped his war maintain majority support inside Russia, even though the average Russian is seeing their meager life savings absolutely destroyed. Part of the story he’s been selling is that Ukraine is, improbably, run by Nazis. To create that story, Putin leaned on the existence of right-wing nationalist parties, particularly in the southeastern section of Ukraine, even though those parties enjoy far less support than similar parties in every other European nation.
That wasn’t the only reason Putin gave for rolling over the border. Before the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russian propaganda artists had sketched out another justification for destroying a neighboring nation. That story, in terms that sound all too familiar, is that Ukraine was harboring “weapons of mass destruction.” Specifically, that it was hosting bioweapons labs were the U.S. was cooking up a nasty attack on Russia.
Just like the Nazi claim, Putin was able to hook this ludicrous charge onto something real. That reality being a series of Soviet bioweapons research labs, left behind in Ukraine, which the U.S. agreed to help clean up all the way back in 1993. Russian propaganda was all about reversing the direction of this action, claiming that the U.S. was actually expanding these programs, rather than shutting them down. Cooperation between Ukrainian scientists and U.S. scientists has continued as part of the “Biological Threat Reduction Program.” Russia has continued to hammer the idea that this is a bioweapons program, not an effort to halt the spread of disease and safely close down old labs.
Under this program, the U.S. helped Ukraine construct two Biosafety Level 2 labs, one in Kyiv, the other in Odessa. These are nothing like the labs associated with actual bioweapons research. A Biosafety 2 lab is at the same level as labs used in many universities and hospitals. It is “applicable to clinical, diagnostic, teaching, and moderate-risk agents that are present in the community.” If you live in a U.S. city, there are many labs with this designation near you. Just this past week, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland warned that the Russian invasion threatened to damage both the old and new labs, and that there was concern about the potential exposures that could result.
But Russia is once again pressing the idea that these labs, including the older Soviet facilities, are “U.S. funded bioweapons labs” that it is trying to eliminate during the invasion. It’s all part of casting Putin’s war—in which Russia is bombing maternity hospitals, leveling villages, and blasting missiles through kindergartens—as justifiable. Also, claiming that they are addressing a threat of WMDs, helps Putin to justify using WMDs like the thermobaric TOS-1 system and potentially chemical weapons. None of this, considering Russia’s demonstrably monstrous actions, should be surprising.
What is shocking is how many people in the U.S. are hurrying to help Putin sell a conspiracy theory that casts Russian invaders as the good guys and the American government as the villain. As CNN reports, QAnon has been on this theme for weeks. QAnon is actually casting the whole war as a joint effort between BFFs Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to smash bioweapons labs and pedophile rings, some of which are operating—and this claim has actually been made—at Joe Biden’s Black Sea villa. It shouldn’t be necessary to go to Poynter’s fact checking site for something this sickening and ridiculous, but just in case:
“We found no evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin bombed property owned by President Joe Biden or that the president owns any villas in Ukraine. Claims about nefarious biolabs in Ukraine — some supposedly ‘U.S. owned’ — have permeated social media since the Russian invasion. But these claims are also bogus, and part of disinformation efforts by Russians. And the claim about ‘pedophile rings’ is unsubstantiated.”
However, what’s genuinely disturbing is the extent to which these Russian propaganda efforts are moving Republicans to side with Putin, in the middle of a bloody war, against their own nation. As a prime example, see Tucker Carlson who is, unaccountably, still on Fox News, defending Russian claims, laughing at Nuland, and claiming that “this is all entirely real.”
What might be a bit more surprising — but probably shouldn’t be at this point — is this statement from Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, here citing professional troll Glenn Greenwald.
Yes, this is a “serious admission, under oath,” to something that the United States has been publicly and openly working on, in conjunction with the Ukrainian government, since there has been a Ukrainian government. There was no secret here. No hidden agenda. The way that both Greenwald and Massie are presenting this is deliberately skewed in a way that gives them the excuse to do what they wanted to do all along — support Vladimir Putin. Massie, by the way, voted against a House resolution to support the people of Ukraine.
There were just three votes against that resolution of support: Massie, Paul Gosar, and Matt Rosendale.
‘R’ is for Russia.