American Biolabs in the Southern Underbelly of Russia

The problem of the Pentagon’s biological laboratories in Central Asia is usually associated with Kazakhstan, but the scale of this phenomenon is wider.

The spread of the coronavirus infection has once again drawn attention to an old topic. In May, the authorities of Kazakhstan decided to create a Biological Safety Council, which, experts hope, will make it more clear what the Americans are doing in Almaty and Otar.

The “biological loop”, which goes to Central Asia from Ukraine through Moldova and Transcaucasia, also covers Turkmenistan, although the closure of that country complicates Washington’s plans. It is almost impossible for the Defence Threat Reduction Agency to climb into Turkmenistan, but a USAID representative office and USAID projects in Ashgabat already exist.

On March 14, 2019, the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan (UIET) and Hil Standart Corporation opened the first private microbiological laboratory in the country with the assistance of USAID. It was officially described as a food safety laboratory. The number of laboratory personnel and the Americans’ degree of control over it are unknown.

Tajikistan is also in the sphere of interests of Pentagon biologists. Some projects are carried out through USAID: the opening in 2019 of a laboratory at the Republican Tuberculosis Control Center; rendering financial assistance to the laboratory at the “Shifo” tuberculosis hospital in Vahdat; establishment of a laboratory centre in Isfara.

What the Americans can’t do, the Europeans can do. The newest bacteriological reference laboratory based on the Gastroenterological Institute in Dushanbe was created with the money of the Mérieux Foundation, known not only for philanthropy, but also for the construction of biological laboratories in China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Africa. It is characteristic that on the territory of the former USSR the Mérieux Foundation works only in Tajikistan. There are no objective assessments of the work of the bacteriological laboratory in this republic.

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They are capturing the Pentagon and Uzbekistan’s “biolaboratory” interests. The specificity of the political reign of Islam Karimov did not interfere with the work of the structures of the US Department of Defence, but even contributed to it. It is enough to name the former biochemical test site on the Kazakh-Uzbek Vozrozhdeniya Island on Aral and test sites in Karakalpakiya. It is believed that the CRL (Central Reference Laboratory) was opened in Tashkent thanks to then American Ambassador Jon Purnell and USAID in 2007, but preparatory work has been carried out since 1997, when a regional department of the STCU, the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine, was established in Uzbekistan.

It is also known that specialists from Tashkent with “some foreigners” came to the closed laboratory in Otar, Kazakhstan, near the border of Uzbekistan; at the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, one of the curators of STCU projects in Uzbekistan was a certain Jane J. Tannenbaum.

On April 21st 2011, the US chargé d’affaires in Uzbekistan, Duane Butcher, opened laboratories in Andijan and Fergana, built with financial support from the Defence Threat Reduction Agency by Bechtel National Incorporated, a large engineering and construction company based in San Francisco. The cost of the project is about $1.3 million. The official purpose of the laboratory is to “help identify particularly dangerous pathogenic microorganisms and prevent epidemics”. Duane Butcher noted that this is “only one of many projects that the United States and Uzbekistan are currently working on”. It was about reconstruction of 10 regional diagnostic laboratories and 17 units of epidemiological support.

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Then, with the help of the Americans, there were stations in Bukhara, Qarshi, Samarkand, Nukus; some have US citizens among their staff.

In the summer of 2015, the Defence Threat Reduction Agency and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a seminar in Tashkent for doctors, epidemiologists, and laboratory specialists of the Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan for the exchange of experience in decrypting laboratory analyses of particularly dangerous pathogens. The large-scale modernisation of 157 sanitary and hygienic laboratories throughout the country with a total cost of $17.4 million was planned.

The largest laboratory built in Uzbekistan by the Defence Threat Reduction Agency and Bechtel National Incorporated was the station in Urgench (Khorezm Regional Diagnostic Laboratory), opened on October 18th 2016, immediately after Karimov’s death. At the opening of the laboratory, US Ambassador Pamela Spratlen announced a full understanding between the Defence Threat Reduction Agency and the government of Uzbekistan.

According to the American Ambassador, the laboratory in Urgench “will allow for the first time to obtain experimental data on the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance”, which “will improve the quality of life and health of citizens of Uzbekistan and other countries of the region”.

However, there was no “improvement in the quality of life and health”. On the contrary, in Uzbekistan, unexplained outbreaks of measles (500 people in the Samarkand region) and smallpox were recorded (this disease was covered up with a diagnosis of “allergic dermatitis”). In Tashkent, there is a theory that the exertion of strong pressure on Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the former President of Uzbekistan, is related, among other things, to the fact that she paid too much attention to the origin of incomprehensible diseases.

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Now the Americans continue their activities in Uzbekistan. In April 2017, a Center for Combating Antimicrobial Resistance was opened at the Research Institute of Epidemiology, Microbiology, and Infectious Diseases of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s new leadership, which maintains relations with Washington, is silent about laboratories. Only once, in October 2018, was the silence broken: after the statement of the chief of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops of the Russian Armed Forces Igor Kirillov about the creation of a “laboratory belt” around Russia, the Ministry of Defence of Uzbekistan said that they “did not hear” about the reconstruction of Pentagon-controlled laboratories in the Republic.

Andrey Uvarov

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