Gennady Onishchenko, head of the state consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor© RIA Novosti. Alexander Wilf
WASHINGTON, October 14 (RIA Novosti) – A US-funded laboratory in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, accused by a prominent Russian official Monday of developing biological weapons, has been repeatedly touted by US officials as a key tool in guarding the region against dangerous infectious diseases.
“This laboratory has the potential to become a regional center for disease surveillance, research, as well as biosafety and security,” US Sen. Richard Lugar said in a speech last year at the christening of the laboratory that bears his name in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, several months before he retired from the Senate.
The laboratory, formally known as the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research, became the target of a renewed attack by Russian authorities Monday when Gennady Onishchenko, head of the state consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, expressed “extreme concern” about the lab.
“According to our assessments, this laboratory constitutes an important offensive link in the US military-biological capability,” Onishchenko was quoted by Russian media as saying, adding that compounds developed at the facility could be secretly employed to destabilize the political and economic situation in Russia.
It was the latest in a series of accusations this year by Onishchenko that the research center could be used for nefarious purposes, allegations that US and Georgian officials have repeatedly denied.
“There still seems to be misperception that this laboratory is a military facility or is engaged in biological weapons research which is absurd,” Richard Norland, the US ambassador to Georgia, said in July.
Washington has funded the research center to the tune of $150 million since its groundbreaking in 2004, according to US officials, an initiative that came in the wake of the Rose Revolution that swept US ally Mikheil Saakasvhili to the Georgian presidency.
Saakashvili’s ascent rattled officials in Moscow, many of whom saw the revolution as engineered by the United States and its allies at the expense of Russian interests.
Years of diplomatic tensions between Washington and Moscow ensued as Saakashvili sought greater integration with the West, with the nadir coming during Russia’s crushing victory against Georgian forces in a brief 2008 war over the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The laboratory opened in March 2011 as the Central Public Health Research Laboratory, with Lugar saying it will “serve as a manifestation of America’s commitment to Georgia.”
The US Army Medical Department’s Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) has been tasked with training Georgian scientists at the lab in areas such as “pathogen research, biosecurity, biosurety and facility operations and maintenance,” according to the USAMRMC.
The goal of the US military and the Georgian government “is to address the threat of infectious diseases at the source with approaches that utilize modern technological developments applied from the rapidly expanding knowledge base in public and animal health,” Jamie Blow, director of Overseas Operations for Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said last year.
Onishchenko said last year that an outbreak of African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) in southern Russia was the result of “economic subversion” by Georgia
Swine fever outbreaks can seriously impair the animal breeding industry because the disease can neither be treated nor prevented by vaccination, and Onishchenko suggested in July that the virus had likely come to Russia from the US-funded laboratory in Georgia.
Russia’s objections to the lab have come from more powerful corners of the government than its consumer protection watchdog. In an apparent reference to the facility, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in July that it has “serious concerns” about “the US Defense Department’s biological activity near Russia’s borders.”
US officials have said the facility is run by the Georgian government and have dismissed accusations that secretive research is being conducted there.
“It’s an open, transparent facility,” Norland said earlier this year. “We believe there is interest, including from Russian scientists, in taking advantage of the resources of this state-of-the-art facility and we hope they’ll do that.”
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- ruypenalvaWhy Russias does not destroy it?02:13, 15/10/2013Why Russia does not destroy that virulent american facility in the hostile Georgia?
- Mikhail1228Russian should destroy this facility!18:12, 15/10/2013Russian should build the same type of research facility in Mexico. After all Mexicans deserve the same goal; to address the threat of infectious diseases at the source with approaches that utilize modern technological developments applied from the rapidly expanding knowledge base in public and animal health...
- NikoMikhail Sakashvili is dangerous sociopat22:26, 15/10/2013Russian Air Force needs to drop 2000 kg laser guided JDAM missile into his presidental apartment !
- mishkaDAvaj Russia dont hesitate.13:16, 16/10/2013Please Russia be courageous this time. That facility MUST be destroyed by an air raid. And even this is the PERFECT timing to do it just weeks after US threats to Syria about ALLEGED Chemical attack. US gave a perfect ground for such a possbile Russian act itself.If they have a right to attack a sovereign country to destroy its facilities it can can refuse the same act when Russia does. Israel had a missile attack to Syrian deployment facility of Mosquit anti ship missiles just some months ago even before alleged chemical attack in Damascus.
Dont forget in this summer a few months ago it appeared suddenly and surprisingly a meningitis epidemic in Russia.
DAvaj Putin please show "the world does not belong to USrael."
- Mikhail1228In Today's RIA-Novosti News17:52, 16/10/2013A scientific research center in Siberia said Wednesday that it has discovered a new strain of HIV in Russia and that the virus is spreading “at a rapid rate.”
- arsanlupinMishka, you are much smarter than this!02:05, 25/10/2013The accusations in this article are ALL tainted by the source. If you search for other articles about him, here in RIA Novosti, you will see what I mean. Here is more, from other sources:
His staunchest ally is Vladimir Zhirinovsky – NOT a boost in credibility. He issues bans on the imports of whatever countries are currently annoying him, and never gives any reasons that are specific enough to verify – let alone try to objectively address. His “food patriotism” rants are legendary in their incredulousness.
At a press conference last June his reasoning for renewing the 7-year-old ban on Georgian wine was “The Georgians "are destroying grapes by making wine from it! Grapes are a holy fruit, a fruit from God, worshipped by pagans and Christians alike, and they make alcohol from it!” Of course, Abkhazia’s wine is fine.
He’s a nut, plain and simple, and Medvedev is no doubt doing it to rid himself of the constant embarrassment.
Also: no one noticed that the article ended by quoting the US ambassador to Georgia inviting Russians to join them in research there. Anyone serious from Russia have worries? The door is officially open – go down and check it out yourself! Hopefully they’ll send someone who is a better scientist than Onishchenko!