Here’s the deal on the “U.S.-run biological weapons labs in Ukraine” allegations.

False claims from Russia alleging bioweapon use by the U.S. is a consistent Russian state-sponsored media disinformation effort.

"There are no U.S. military-run labs in Ukraine." stated Andy Weber, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs.

Where did it all begin?

These rumors stem from 2005 when Ukraine and the U.S. signed an agreement to prevent the spread of technologies, pathogens, and knowledge that could be used to develop bio weapons. 

These labs weren't “installed” by the U.S. military.

How long has this narrative existed? Russian propagandists have claimed the U.S. is operating secret biolabs in the Ukraine since at least 2018.

Similarly, in 2021, Russia and China began spreading the false claim that the U.S. has biolabs along each of their borders, insinuating that America is responsible for unleashing COVID-19.

This particular flavor of the narrative started in February 2022, when a subsequently suspended Twitter user posted a thread claiming that a map of Russia's missile attacks lined up with Ukraine biolab locations (thanks to @snopes & @PolitiFact for the background on the issue):

That Tweet.

What we’ve found

Our team has been tracking disinformation narratives propagating from a list of websites known for spreading disinformation. This list was curated by our source credibility partner, NewsGuard, and our machine learning algorithms automatically identified this narrative.

In particular, we noticed a spike of stories (over 116) just from this list of 140 domains over the last two weeks propagating the claim.

  Multilingual Narrative Identification and Analysis from NewsGuard’s Disinformation Domains

Who's spreading this narrative? 

Sputnik News, Russia Today, Tass, NewsFront, Planetes360, The Duran, Pravda TV, Database Italia, and ZeroHedge, in English, Russian, French, German, Italian and Arabic.

TL;DR: a bunch of state-sponsored media across many languages.

Top ownership groups of media sources propagating this narrative were the Russian state international news agency, NewsFront (based in Russia-occupied Crimea), and the Russian government.

Distribution of source ownership in the biolab narrative

Within US publications, the narrative spread across conservative media at over 10x more than liberal media.

Distribution of NewsGuard orientation in the biolab narrative

Some of the sub-narratives

1. "US heavily funding secret biolabs in Ukraine" (sources including dilyana.bg and TheAltWorld). 

Interestingly, tables and budget figures were used as "proof" here, which is far easier to repurpose or create than "deepfakes":

Stories in sub-narrative 1 used data tables claiming to be proof that the U.S. funded biowarfare efforts in Ukraine

2. "US government scrambling after secret biolabs exposed" 

Blasts the US government calling out personalities including Tulsi Gabbard and Tucker Carlson for "revealing the truth" about US-funded bio-labs. 

(sources include The Duran, Sputnik News, and NewsWars)

3. "US data shows over 26 bio-labs in Ukraine" 

(sources include CGTN, Global Times (both Chinese state-sponsored), BigGovernment and LibreInfo) 

Similar to the use of tables and budgets, the use of maps here as "proof" is noteworthy.

Sub-narrative 3 leveraged maps such as this briefing from the Russian Defense Ministry to visualize the locations of alleged U.S. bio-labs

Here’s a breakdown of partisanship and ownership spreading these sub-narratives:

Distribution of NewsGuard orientation per each sub-narrative

PeakMetrics CEO Nick Loui's original Twitter thread can be found here.

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