January 10, 2014

Kazakhstan Biological Laboratory: What Does Pentagon Need it For?

Dmitry POPOV | 09.01.2014 | 00:00


The US Department of Defense (DOD) is building an extremely expensive dual purpose biological laboratory in Kazakhstan. These kinds of facilities are built by the Pentagon along the Russian border creating a potential threat for the Russian Federation and the states of Central Asia. The construction of Central reference-laboratory on the basis of former Soviet anti-plague research institute in Almaty was started in 2010 with funds provided by the US Defense Department. It is to become operational in 2015. A new decease detection early warning station situated in the populated area of Otar (supposedly on the basis of agricultural research institute – DNISHI) will add to its capability. The station is slated to start functioning in April 2014; the US has allocated $5, 6 for the purpose.

Formally the Almaty Central laboratory is to provide for the safety of especially dangerous pathogens left as remnants of Soviet biological program. It is to study the ways to provide protection against them, as well as to create jobs for former military experts on biological warfare. There are some signs confirming the fact that the laboratory may be used for military research conducted by the USA. The program is overseen by Richard Lugar, the Senator who is known to have close ties to military establishment. He had dealt with dismantling former Soviet nuclear facilities in Kazakhstan and other states of CIS switching later to tackling the issue of biological weapons, in particular in Ukraine and Georgia (the latter had no biological weapons in the times of the Soviet Union, but the laboratory named after Richard Lugar has been built there in our days)…

The practice of using such facilities in other countries shows they operate outside of national control, the secrecy is tight and quite often the laboratories are managed by former military or special services officials (former head of Georgian foreign intelligence branch Anna Zhvania is assigned to head the laboratory in Alekseevka near Tbilisi). Here are many foreigners among the personnel, including those who enjoy diplomatic immunity; the local health authorities have no direct access to the facilities.

The cost of Almaty laboratory is $108 million exceeding by far the standard expenditure for the objects of this type, it makes one believe that the dual purpose equipment is installed there. The emergence of costly closed military facilities on the territory of the Collective Security Treaty Organization evokes questions, to say the least. On July 19 the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed serious concern over the biological activities of US Department of Defense in the vicinity of Russian border. According to Russian experts, the chain of facilities poses a threat for Russia and allows the United States to carry out a number of unfriendly missions at once.

First, it makes possible to conduct biological research (including field tests) outside the national territory without facing a problem of protests staged by Americans.

Second, it allows getting around the international agreements, including the 1972 biological convention. Let me remember the fact that Americans consistently shy away from working out verification mechanisms for checking the convention compliance (for instance, they refuse to join the protocol to the convention prepared upon Moscow’s initiative in 2001). Russian representatives are refused to visit the facilities used by Americans abroad.

Third, pathogenic microorganisms may be created to strike a genotype, a type of animals or the population of some territory. In the summer of 2013 then Russia's chief sanitary inspector Gennady Onishchenko publicly declared that a US laboratory in Georgia is involved in programs of offensive character targeted at Russia. Iran may also be a target of US military efforts. Fourth, Americans may conduct tests of biological agents in violation of international ban to determine their virulence, lethality, the ways to deliver to the target and other parameters and characteristics. The experts of Russian defense research institute of microbiology find it possible that biological samples could have been delivered from the territory of Georgia on purpose. In 2013 there have been flare-ups of deceases in the Russian South, for instance: a break of highly contagious meningitis among children in the Rostov region, African hog cholera and foot-and-mouth decease stroke the Kuban region and Northern Caucasus. The Pentagon has acquired access to the Soviet military biological research programs giving clues to the state of Russian contemporary biological potential and the ways to counter it. According to media reports, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan turned a deaf ear to the concern voiced by Russia and transferred their biological potentials to the United States in exchange for aid. In 2005 Azerbaijan transferred 60 samples of the most dangerous bacteria to the US Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Senator Richard Lugar and Barack Obama, would-be President of the United States, acted as go-betweens in the deal. Having become Chief Executive, Mr. Obama continued to allocate funds for the corresponding defense programs. During the recent ten years the United States deployed a string of dual use laboratories across the world (Europe, Africa, and South-East Africa). Large facilities have come into function in the post-Soviet space – in Ukraine and Georgia, smaller biological stations are upgraded in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Supposedly, the laboratory being built in Kazakhstan is to become part of a system called «bio missile defense». If the concern about hostile intentions on the part of the United States raised by experts is justified, then the threat posed by the Almaty facility will increase due to free exchange of goods within the framework of Customs Union, labor immigrants coming from Central Asia and the fact the sources of contagion are situated so close (there are three natural pestholes in Kyrgyzstan, in August plague killed a juvenile there for the first time since 1981). The forbidden activities related to the use of toxic agents will turn against and strike Kazakhstan and its people first. Along with that, there is a simple way to do away with the concern caused by the US-run laboratory in Almaty by guaranteeing transparency of the process at all phases, including the construction and following research. Will the Pentagon agree to place the program under international and civilian control, something US State Department officials like to talk so much about?

Dmitry Popov is the head of Ural branch of Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (Yekaterinburg)

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