West accuses Russia of using UN council to spread propaganda

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Russia's ambassador Vasily Nebenzya speaks at the end of a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, Friday, March 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

CAMEROON – Six Western nations accused Russia of using the U.N. Security Council to launder disinformation, spread propaganda and justify an unprovoked attack on Ukraine on Friday, and the United States again warned that Moscow’s claim the U.S. has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine “is really a potential false flag effort in action.”

The meeting was originally intended for a vote on Russia’s draft resolution on humanitarian relief for Ukraine, which has been widely criticized for making no mention of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor. But Russia canceled the vote Thursday and announced it would use the meeting instead to raise what it called new allegations of U.S. involvement in biological warfare activities. Those have been repeatedly denied by both the United States and Ukraine.

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The six Western nations -- U.S., UK, France, Albania, Ireland and Norway -- delivered a joint statement just before the session saying: “This meeting and these lies are designed for one purpose, to deflect responsibility for Russia’s war of choice and the humanitarian catastrophe it has caused.”

They said that Russia, not Ukraine, has long maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law and has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons.

And they accused Russia of abusing its responsibilities and privileges as a permanent member of the Security Council and subverting the council's mandate to ensure international peace and security, calling its “horrific campaign of violence against the Ukrainian people ... deeply shameful.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who read the joint statement, later told the Security Council not to forget why they were meeting — “because Russia knew its cynical ploy to pass an exculpatory resolution had failed” and it had to cancel Friday’s vote.

The resolution would have needed at least nine “yes” votes in the 15-member council and no veto by a permanent member to be approved. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia indicated it didn’t have the votes, accusing the West, and especially the U.S. and Albania, on Thursday of using “unprecedented pressure” on U.N. member nations to oppose the measure.

On Friday, Thomas-Greenfield reiterated what she told the council at a March 11 session called by Russia on its original bioweapons allegations: “Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories -- not near Russia’s border, not anywhere.”

Ukraine only has public health facilities supported by the United States, the World Health Organization, and other governments and international institutions, she said.

Reiterating the Biden administration’s concern about a potential false flag effort, Thomas-Greenfield said, “We continue to believe it is possible that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people.”

Nebenzia responded by calling accusations that Russia intends to deploy biological and chemical weapons against Ukraine “real cynicism.”

“We’ve already warned about the fact that we know, and we officially warned ... about Ukrainian nationalists using chemical agents in some regions to carry out a provocation and then accuse Russia of having done it,” he said. “This is a false flag operation.”

Last week, Nebenzia said Russia’s Defense Ministry has documents charging that Ukraine has at least 30 biological laboratories carrying out “very dangerous biological experiments” involving pathogens, and the work “is being done and funded and supervised by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the United States.”

He circulated a 69-page document to council members at Friday’s meeting and claimed that the Ministry of Defense had received new details over the last week “which allow us to state that the components for biological weapons were being created on the territory of Ukraine” to implement a 2005 American-Ukrainian agreement.

“Put simply the Ukraine authorities gave the Pentagon carte blanche on the territory of Ukraine to carry out dangerous biological experiments there,” Nebenzia asserted.

Ukraine does own and operate a network of biological labs that have gotten funding and research support from the U.S. They are part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Program that aims to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks, whether natural or manmade. The U.S. efforts date back to work in the 1990s to dismantle the former Soviet Union’s program for weapons of mass destruction.

“The labs are not secret,” Filippa Lentzos, a senior lecturer in science and international security at King’s College London, said in an email to The Associated Press last week. “They are not being used in relation to bioweapons. This is all disinformation.”

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, referring to the March 11 meeting called by Russia, said Friday: “It was nonsense then, and it is nonsense now.”

U.N. disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu reiterated what she told the council last week: The United Nations is not aware of any such biological weapons program" and has no mandate to investigate the Russian claims.

Russia’s Nebenzia called the material it released on March 11 and on Friday “only the tip of the iceberg.”

He said the Ministry of Defense is receiving and analyzing more new material and will continue to keep the Security Council and the international community informed “about the unlawful activity carried out by the Pentagon on Ukrainian territory.”

Russia presented its draft humanitarian resolution on Tuesday, a day after France and Mexico announced that their own humanitarian resolution on Ukraine was being moved from the Security Council, where it was certain to face a Russian veto, to the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes.

The France-Mexico draft resolution would demand “an immediate cessation of hostilities” and deplore “the dire humanitarian consequences of the hostilities against Ukraine,” provisions not in the Russian resolution.

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere told reporters Thursday the resolution will be presented to the General Assembly next week. Britain’s Woodward expressed hope that it would get more than the 141 votes received by a March 2 resolution demanding an immediate halt to Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine and withdrawal of all Russian troops.

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