In Russia officials regularly declare the alleged danger from the United States in the field of biological weapons. American biological laboratories in countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Georgia, are of particular concern to commentators. In fact, Russians have nothing to fear yet, and officials should take an example from the United States and move from talk to action. “Lenta.ru” describes how.
In November Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev wrote a column listing Russia’s main security threats. One point was devoted to a policy “aimed at the destruction of a single humanitarian space and the separation of peoples” with regard to the CIS and CSTO, as well as the establishment of US biological laboratories on their territory: “of particular concern is the Pentagon’s efforts to establish biological laboratories around the world, especially in the CIS countries, where infectious diseases are studied and biological weapons can be developed.” In January of the same year, the Secretary of the Security Council claimed that the United States had commissioned more than 200 biological laboratories around the world and they were on the territory of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains this position. “These include US research into an unmanned aerial vehicle to distribute contaminated insects in the air as a means of delivering particularly dangerous infectious agents, various types of ammunition for small arms and light weapons with capsules with biological formulations for human infection, as well as experiments with plague bacteria capable of creating biofilms protecting against all types of existing antibiotics,” stated the Ministry in relation to the dangers of American biological weapons.
Collect from everyone
Under the United States Department of Defence is the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, an organisation dedicated to finding, developing, and introducing the most advanced and promising technologies into the military realm. This is exactly what in the Russian tradition should correspond to “unparalleled” and “breakthrough” developments. The main work of DARPA is built around several units, among which the Biological Technology (Biotechnology) Branch is of interest in this case.
Among the many tasks to be solved, this unit is engaged in the development of promising means of defence against planned biological threats. First of all, by strengthening the human immune system, allowing to activate the production of antibodies, and the biochemical blocking of attempts to edit the genome. It is planned to use such means of defence as they are ready before a biological attack. The Pentagon recognises that such technologies have a dual purpose, but adds that it is primarily about defending and restoring human health, and not even a minor change to it.
One of DARPA’s priority programs is to create a method for producing a vaccine in an extremely short period of time, such as three weeks. The US is confident that the conflicts of the future will involve natural or artificial strains of bacteria and viruses unknown to modern science that the current means do not work against. For the rapid development of vaccines, the U.S. military wants to obtain samples of as many naturally occurring microorganisms as possible – to a large extent, it is the collection and study of the latter that is carried out by U.S. military biological laboratories scattered throughout the planet.
Another program that is being worked on at DARPA (Safe Genes) is to prevent the ability to edit the human genome with CRISPR/Cas9 (Clustered Regular Intersected Short Palindromic Repeats Associated Protein 9). The military fears that such technology, having fallen into the hands of the enemy or terrorists, will get out of control and provoke severe or irreversible consequences for man. DARPA assures that it has made progress in this direction by using anti-CRISPR proteins that prevent the insertion of foreign DNA fragments into the genome of a particular species. For the time being the department is conducting experiments with rodents. In human terms, the implementation of the technology will involve regulating the expression of the corresponding genes rather than directly editing DNA.
Finally, the third popular biotechnology direction in DARPA was the development of promising materials. For example, coatings for runways, especially vulnerable to breakage in the event of hostilities. Such a road could be quickly laid and there wouldn’t be fear of its long recovery after being destroyed, for example, by an enemy missile strike.
There is an important nuance in the statements made by Russian officials about the United States in the CIS countries allegedly working on biological weapons against Russians. If the United States has a network of foreign biological laboratories designed, according to Moscow, to create biological weapons and threaten Russians (although, according to Washington, these stations provide relatively prompt monitoring of potential sources of biological danger around the world), what is being done in Russia for the safety of citizens and soldiers? Generally speaking, very little.
On the one hand, the remote Russian analogue of DARPA can be considered the “Fund for Advanced Research” (FAR). Thus, according to the task of the latter, in the framework of the “Transgen” project genetically modified lymphocytes are intended to be used to enhance the immunity of a person sent to the area of biological threat or already located there. Natural-like technologies are popular at the Kurchatov Institute. However, FAR and the Kurchatov Institute are orders of magnitude inferior to DARPA in terms of their capabilities.
However, Russia does not find sufficient funding for an international network of biological laboratories as it does for its own space meteorological grouping or a stable network of Antarctic stations.
On the other hand, it should be noted that work carried out under the protection of the Pentagon sometimes raises quite certain concerns. First of all, the “Insect Allies” program implemented by DARPA, which German and French scientists have actually accused of potentially violating the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction”. According to experts, the project involving the active use of horizontal gene transfer – editing of the plant genome with insect-borne viruses – is too dangerous and does not justify the stated goals.
However, American biolaboratory communities do not pose any threat to Russians, Ukrainians, Slavs, and other ethno-linguistic communities, as it is impossible exclusively by biological methods to destroy an individual nation on a particular territory while leaving another nation there alive. There is a real danger – changing weather patterns, as a result of which viruses and bacteria common in equatorial and tropical regions penetrate into the northern latitudes.
Successful counteraction to such threats can only be provided with proper prevention, which is impossible without preliminary research of the causative agents of a potential epidemic – exactly what the Americans are doing. Today, however, the United States is often blamed for the emergence of almost any disease that is unfamiliar in Russia and the bordering unrecognised republics.
To assess the real extent of the problem, it is enough to look at the relatively popular vaccines and medicines currently offered in Russia. Some of them, such as the brucellosis vaccine, are not recognised abroad, while others, such as combination antiretroviral therapy, are not actually produced by the country. In such a situation the need to create special biological weapons and their hypothetical use against Russians will become irrelevent.
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