U.S.-Ukraine ‘biolabs story’ likely authored by Russian intelligence
In 2017, CyberBerkut, a hacking group that UK intelligence says is a front for the GRU, a branch of Russian intelligence, spread a false story about Ukraine having bioweapons. A similar story involving Georgia, which Russia attacked in 2008, dates back to at least 2011. Milton Leitenberg, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies, wrote about the start of this story. He is also the author of “Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat.”
Leitenberg said of the Ukrainian “biolabs” narrative, “This is ALL KGB/FSB work.” While the U.K. government identified CyberBerkut as a GRU front, meaning it technically conflicts with Leitenberg’s assessment, both attribute it to Russian intelligence. Leitenberg described an article from 2011 written by “a Georgian journalist, Joni Simonishvili, in Geonews,” which he characterized as “a Russian proxy disinformation site.”
Simonishvili, he said, “turned to the Lugar Center in earnest.” The Nunn-Lugar Center is a real laboratory in Georgia, but that is where evidence and this story parted ways. By 2013, accusations about biological weapons in Georgia had taken shape.
A Russian official at the time asserted:
"With the enlargement of contacts and supplies of wine products, vegetables, and other agricultural products to Russia, our alarm at the presence of a powerful U.S. Navy biological laboratory in Georgia not controlled by Georgian authorities will be increasing.”
In 2017, claims that had initially centered on Georgia shifted to Ukraine in the now-infamous pseudo-investigative piece from CyberBerkut. Days later, the story also appeared in TASS, a Russian state-controlled news outlet. Then, in early 2018, the FSB-controlled outlet SouthFront (FSB is another arm of Russian intelligence) ran the CyberBerkut but attributed it to Dilyana Gaytandzhieva.
Gaytandzhieva had not been the listed author in earlier publications. Still, she was the listed author for the piece’s South Front debut. Gaytandzhieva later promoted the same false claims in 2022, connecting them to those made in 2017 and 2018 when she linked the 2018 version in a tweet referencing Ukrainian biolabs in early 2022. Gaytandzhieva also appeared on Chinese state media related to her false biological weapons claims, which China heavily promoted alongside the Russian state in early March 2022.