Russia Stokes China’s Conspiracy Theories: Claims U.S.-Linked Ukrainian Labs Housed ‘Bat Coronavirus’

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY DARIO THUBURN An researcher at a pharmaceutical testing laboratory

The Russian Defense Ministry reportedly claimed on Thursday that U.S.-backed Ukrainian laboratories housed “bat coronavirus,” implicitly supporting Chinese conspiracy theories that America is to blame for the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

The Chinese coronavirus pandemic began in central Wuhan, China, in late 2019; no evidence has surfaced of any cases of coronavirus infection in America, or Ukraine, prior to the earliest known cases in China. Leaked Chinese internal documents place the date of the first diagnosis of the novel Chinese coronavirus at November 17, 2019. Despite the evidence, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have circulated an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the first known coronavirus cases occurred at the U.S. Army facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and American doctors hid the cases by diagnosing them as e-cigarette injuries.

The Communist Party has blamed a laboratory leak in Maryland for the pandemic even after the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) concluded in a report published in early 2021 that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely” to have been the source of the novel virus. The study claimed instead that the likeliest scenario was that the virus jumped from its origin animal to an intermediary and then infected humans; it notably found no samples of the Chinese coronavirus in 80,000 animal samples and did not point to any one specific animal species as the source.

The W.H.O. came to that conclusion while studying a much more commonly accepted theory the Chinese coronavirus may have leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a top-tier laboratory known to have been studying bat coronaviruses shortly before the pandemic began. China has insisted that any link between the WIV and the pandemic is impossible.

The head of the W.H.O., Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, responded to the 2021 report by accusing it of not being “extensive enough” and urging more investigations into the WIV.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has not directly blamed Ukraine for the pandemic but appears to be suggesting in statements this week that a joint American-Ukrainian research facility could have leaked a novel pathogen. Russia launched an invasion into Ukraine in 2014 that escalated dramatically after eight years, resulting in Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordering airstrikes over the capital, Kyiv, and other major cities beginning in late February.

Chief spokesman for the Ministry of Defence Major General Igor Konashenkov told reporters on Thursday that, in the process of invading Ukraine, Russian officials had seized biological laboratories allegedly conducting research on “deadly pathogens,” including coronavirus, according to Russia’s state outlet Sputnik.

“According to the documents [obtained in the seized laboratories], the American side planned to conduct work on pathogens of birds, bats, and reptiles in Ukraine in 2022, with a further transition to studying the possibility of carrying African swine fever and anthrax”, Konashenkov reportedly said. “The purpose of this – and other Pentagon-funded biological research in Ukraine, was to create a mechanism for the covert spread of deadly pathogens.”

Sputnik claims Konashenkov listed “bat coronavirus” as one of the pathogens found in the facilities.

Bat specimen on display at the “Enlightenment Of COVID-19” science exhibition on July 18, 2021 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.  (Photo by Getty)

The Defense Ministry statement follows the claim by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova that Russian forces occupying Ukraine seized an American-funded biological laboratory allegedly creating biological weapons.

“We confirm that, during the special military operation in Ukraine, the Kiev [sic] regime was found to have been concealing traces of a military biological programme implemented with funding from the United States Department of Defence,” Zakharova’s statement on Tuesday read. “Documentation on the urgent eradication of highly hazardous pathogens of plague, anthrax, rabbit-fever, cholera and other lethal diseases on February 24 was received from employees of Ukrainian biolaboratories.”

The American State Department responded to Zakharova by dismissing her claim as “total nonsense” and conspiracy theories” perpetuated to “justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.”

“The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine, it is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is Russia that has active chemical and biological weapons programs and is in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention.”


The State Department has confirmed that Ukraine possessed “biological research facilities” independent of Russian claims. In a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told lawmakers that her agency was “quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of” those facilities and use the pathogens there to perpetrate a biological attack.

The Russian government abstained from directly linking the laboratories to the pandemic, but Chinese state media did not.

“In the past two years of the COVID-10 [sic] pandemic, China has repeatedly explained that the virus came from nature and the West’s accusations about the WIV are totally groundless,” an editorial in the Global Times published on Thursday read. “China has also invited experts from the World Health Organization and US media outlets like NBC to come and see the WIV.”

In reality, W.H.O. chief Tedros complained after the agency published its report on Wuhan that China did not offer his investigators sufficient freedom to properly research the WIV.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” Tedros said in March 2021. “Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”

“Unlike the groundless US slandering about the WIV, there are genuine concerns about the US labs in Ukraine,” the Global Times concluded.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.