Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Friday warned Russia’s claim that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine could be a pretext for Moscow launching its own biological weapons attack on Ukraine.
Thomas-Greenfield made the comments during a UN Security Council meeting that had been called at Russia’s request to discuss Moscow’s claims that Ukraine is secretly developing biological weapons with the help of the US.
As reported by the Guardian, the event saw some heated discussion.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, evoked the terrifying specter of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe, but Thomas-Greenfield responded that Russia’s claim could be a pretext for launching its own biological weapons attack on Ukraine.
This came after the Russian ministry of foreign affairs posted a tweet last Sunday accusing the US and Ukrainian governments of running a secret “military-biological programme” inside the war-ravaged country.
Moscow claimed that its invading forces had discovered evidence of an “emergency clean-up” to hide the programme.
Moscow went on to claim that it had found documents related to the secret US operation in laboratories in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Poltava.
The Guardian reported that these allegations were quickly amplified by China, which supported the claims during Friday’s UN security council debate.
However, both the US and Ukraine have denied that they are developing any biological weapons inside the country.
At Friday’s meeting, Thomas-Greenfield, said: “I will say this once: ‘Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program.’” She went on to turn the accusation back on Moscow. “It is Russia that has long maintained a biological weapon program in violation of international law,” the Guardian reported.
The UN high commissioner for disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, confirmed that the UN was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine.
However, the Guardian reported that Ukraine does operate biological laboratories which receive US funding.
The US undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland affirmed these facts in a Senate foreign relations committee hearing last week in which the Republican senator Marco Rubio asked her directly whether Ukraine had biological weapons, the Guardian reported.
Nuland did not answer the question directly but said: “Ukraine has biological research facilities.”
She also said there was concern that Russian forces were trying to gain control of the labs. “We are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”
According to the Guardian, US funding to the laboratories had its roots in the fall of the Soviet Union after which money was pumped into Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to help them transfer scientific skills away from weapons programs towards public health initiatives.
The scheme was originally known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, but is now more commonly referred to as the biological engagement program. It has been successful in supporting former Soviet and other countries to fulfil public health obligations, the Guardian reported.
“This is one of the best things that we do,” Dr Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Guardian.
Most of the work of the Ukraine labs today, Gronvall said, involved surveillance of diseases in animals and people as an early-warning system for illnesses such as African swine fever, which is endemic in the region. “We know pathogens don’t respect borders, so helping to put out public health fires before they become too big is an advantage to all of us,” she said.
However, the Guardian reported that as part of their work researching diseases the bio labs do seem to hold dangerous pathogens.
According to the report, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging Ukraine to destroy any highly dangerous agents in its laboratories to avoid the risk of a disastrous outbreak should one of the labs come under Russian attack.
“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the ministry of health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” the UN health agency said.
The WHO has worked in Ukraine for several years helping the bio labs improve their safety and security, so it knows what it is talking about, the Guardian reported.
However, the report stated that in addition to the threat of pathogens held in Ukrainian labs leaking out or falling into the hands of Russian forces, there is the threat of Russia potentially launching its own biological weapons attack.
The assessment of the US state department is that Russia continues to maintain an offensive biological weapons programme in violation of the convention that it has signed.
Earlier this week, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, accused Russia under Vladimir Putin of having a “long and well-documented track record” of using chemical weapons, pointing to the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia’s support of the Syrian regime while it deployed chemical weapons.
She went on to warn that Moscow’s claim of a secret biological weapons programme in Ukraine could in fact be laying the foundations for a Russian chemical or biological weapons assault inside Ukraine, the Guardian reported.
Turkey earthquake of magnitude 7.9 shakes central region, Syria
A strong earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck southern Turkey early on Monday and was felt in Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria, collapsing buildings and sending residents into the snowy streets, Reuters quoted witnesses and broadcasters said.
The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) said the quake struck at a depth of 10 km (6 miles) near the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, while the EMSC monitoring service said the chance of a tsunami risk was being evaluated.
The tremor lasted about a minute and shattered windows, according to a Reuters witness in Diyarbakir, 350 km (218 miles) to the east, read the report.
Broadcasters TRT and Haberturk showed images of people gathered around wrecked building in Kahramanmaras, seeking survivors.
The governor of Turkey’s southeastern province of Sanliurfa province, Salih Ayhan, said on Twitter, “We have destroyed buildings” and urged people to move to safe locations.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) put the magnitude of the quake at 7.4 near Kahramanmaras and the larger city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border, Reuters reported.
Syrian state media said a large number of buildings collapsed in the province of Aleppo, while a source in the Hama civil service said several buildings collapsed there.
“Paintings fell off the walls in the house,” said Samer, a resident of Damascus, the Syrian capital. “I woke up terrified. Now we’re all dressed and standing at the door.”
People in Damascus, as well as in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street on foot and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case of collapses, witnesses said.
The area is regularly hit by strong earthquakes, read the report.
The head of the Turkish Red Cross said it was mobilising resources for the region as it had received information of serious damage and collapsed buildings, and urged people to evacuate damaged homes.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan martial ruler in 9/11 wars, dies
General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and later led a reluctant Pakistan into aiding the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Islamic Emirate, has died, an official said Sunday. He was 79.
Musharraf, a former special forces commando, became president through the last of a string of military coups that roiled Pakistan since its founding amid the bloody 1947 partition of India. He ruled the nuclear-armed state after his 1999 coup through tensions with India, an atomic proliferation scandal and an Islamic extremist insurgency. He stepped down in 2008 while facing possible impeachment, AP reported.
Later in life, Musharraf lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid criminal charges, despite attempting a political comeback in 2012. But it wasn’t to be as his poor health plagued his last years. He maintained a soldier’s fatalism after avoiding a violent death that always seemed to be stalking him.
“I have confronted death and defied it several times in the past because destiny and fate have always smiled on me,” Musharraf once wrote. “I only pray that I have more than the proverbial nine lives of a cat.”
Musharraf´s family announced in June 2022 that he had been hospitalized for weeks while suffering from amyloidosis, an incurable condition that sees proteins build up in the body’s organs.
“Going through a difficult stage where recovery is not possible and organs are malfunctioning,” the family said.
Shazia Siraj, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats were providing support to his family.
US fighter jet shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon
A US military fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it first entered US airspace and triggered a dramatic — and public — spying saga that worsened Sino-US relations, Reuters reported.
President Joe Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to take down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to safeguard civilians from debris crashing to Earth from thousands of feet (meters) above commercial air traffic.
“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden said.
Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one — an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia — took the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile, a senior US military official said.
According to Reuters China strongly condemned the military strike on an airship that it says was used for meteorological and other scientific purposes, and which it said had strayed into US airspace “completely accidentally” — claims flatly dismissed by US officials.
“China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”
The balloon was shot down about six nautical miles off the US coast of the Atlantic Ocean, over relatively shallow water, potentially aiding efforts to recover elements of the Chinese surveillance equipment over the coming days, US officials said.
One US military official said the debris field was spread out over seven miles (11 km) of ocean, and multiple US military vessels were on site.
The downing of the balloon came shortly after the US government ordered a halt to flights in and out of three airports in South Carolina — Wilmington, Myrtle Beach and Charleston — due to what it said at the time was an undisclosed “national security effort.” Flights resumed on Saturday afternoon, Reuters reported.
While Saturday’s shootdown concludes the military dimension to the spying saga, Biden is likely to continue to face intense political scrutiny from Republican opponents in Congress who argue he failed to act quickly enough.
A senior administration official said after shooting down the balloon, the US government spoke directly with China about the action. The State Department also briefed allies and partners around the world, the official said.
Questions remain about how much information China may have gathered during the balloon’s trek across the United States, read the report.
The balloon entered US airspace in Alaska on Jan. 28 before moving into Canadian airspace on Jan 30. It then re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho on Jan. 31, a US defense official said. Once it crossed over US land, it did not return to open waters, making a shootdown difficult.
US officials did not publicly disclose the balloon’s presence over the United States until Thursday, Reuters reported.
“It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people,” said US Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican who leads the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Biden’s emphasis on Saturday that — days ago — he ordered the balloon shot down as soon as possible could be an effort to respond to such critics.
Former President Donald Trump, Biden’s potential rival in the 2024 election, called earlier this week for the balloon to be shot down, and has sought to portray himself as stronger than Biden on China. The US relationship with China is likely to be a major theme of the 2024 presidential race.
Washington had called the balloon’s appearance a “clear violation” of US sovereignty and notified Beijing about the shootdown on Saturday, a US official said.
Still, officials on Saturday appeared to play down the balloon’s impact on US national security.
“Our assessment — and we’re going to learn more as we pick up the debris — was that it was not likely to provide significant additive value over and above other (Chinese) intel capability, such as satellites in low-Earth orbit,” the senior US defense official said.
A Reuters photographer who witnessed the shootdown said a stream came from a jet and hit the balloon, but there was no explosion. It then began to fall.
The Pentagon assesses that the balloon was part of a fleet of Chinese spy balloons. On Friday, it said another Chinese balloon was flying over Latin America.
“Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia and Europe,” the US official said.
The suspected spy balloon prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to China this week that had been expected to start on Friday, Reuters reported.
The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, was a blow to those who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship between the two countries.
China is keen for a stable US relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
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