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The Cold War could be coming back with a vengeance, and the U.S.’s top adversaries are dusting off some old-school Soviet tactics.
Russian and Chinese government officials have recently teamed up to publicly accuse the U.S. of creating biological weapons near their borders and suggesting that Americans are responsible for creating COVID-19.
Speaking to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant on Thursday, Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s Security Council secretary, said: “I suggest that you pay attention to the fact that biological laboratories under U.S. control are growing by leaps and bounds all over the world. And—by a strange coincidence—mainly near the Russian and Chinese borders.”
Patrushev, who formerly served as director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)—the main successor organization to the Soviet KGB—added that “outbreaks of diseases uncharacteristic of these regions” have been recorded in areas adjacent to these alleged bio-labs. He then openly accused the U.S. of developing biological weapons in those facilities.
Like clockwork, Russian state media echoed and disseminated Patrushev’s accusations against the U.S. But this time, they were accompanied by an official statement from China’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Lijian Zhao, who tweeted: “The US bio-military activities are not transparent, safe or justified. In Ukraine alone, the US has set up 16 bio-labs. Why does the US need so many labs all over the world? What activities are carried out in those labs, including the one in Fort Detrick?”
Zhao voiced the same accusations during an official press briefing, where he identified Russia as his source on the matter. “I noticed that Russia recently asked the US again about their military and biological activities in Fort Detrick and in Ukraine,” said Zhao. “Other countries also expressed similar concerns.”
The unsubstantiated allegations against the U.S. and Ukraine have come at a particularly convenient time for Putin, who has recently intensified Kremlin efforts to absorb the Donbas region. In February of this year, the Russian president ominously promised that “[The Kremlin] will never turn [its] back on Donbas, no matter what."
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded RT and Sputnik, doubled down on promoting Russia’s takeover of Eastern Ukraine, with repeated urges for “Mother Russia” to “take Donbas home.” By presenting Ukraine as a national security threat to Russia, and alleging its involvement in the manufacturing of deadly bio-weapons, the Kremlin is able further justify its increasingly aggressive posture towards its highly coveted neighboring territory
Just as Trump had aided an outbreak of violence against Asian-Americans by calling COVID-19 the “China virus” and spreading unsubstantiated claims that the virus was made in a Wuhan lab, opponents of the U.S. have strived to cultivate that type of hostility against America on a global scale. Both Russia and China stand to benefit from pinning the blame for the pandemic on the U.S., and if Ukraine can be theoretically implicated, too—all the better for the Kremlin.
It’s not the first time Russia claims that the U.S. is creating and disseminating deadly diseases around the world. In 1992, Russia perpetuated a KGB disinformation campaign that falsely alleged that the virus that caused AIDS was the product of biological weapons experiments conducted by the U.S. During the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Russian propaganda outlets spread conspiracy theories that the virus had been created by the U.S. in collaboration with Great Britain and South Africa.
There is another common denominator to these disinformation tactics: In addition to accusing the U.S. of engaging in worldwide biological warfare, the Kremlin is simultaneously positioning itself as a lone savior.
“[Russia] saved Africa from Ebola,” Olga Skabeeva of Russia’s state-TV’s 60 Minutes proudly declared last month. While attempting to discredit COVID-19 vaccines created by Western countries, Russian state media outlets have frequently praised “Sputnik V” as the world’s best coronavirus vaccine, even as troubling information about the Russian-made vaccine continues to emerge.
To overcome the suspension of disbelief and promote the idea that the U.S. is capable of the worst kind of abuses against humanity, Russian propagandists are now resorting to an all-too-familiar dehumanization tactic: painting America as a super-villain.
“[Americans] don’t even have the word “soulfulness” in the English language,” RT’s Margarita Simonyan recently proclaimed on Russian television. “We’re soulful. They’re not like us.”