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Secret Laboratory in Georgia

02.07.2012 11:08

Alexei Konovalov

On March 18, 2011, in Georgia there was an official opening of the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL), which was attended by Andrew C. Weber, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, as well as Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.

The main objective of this laboratory is to identify the infectious diseases that threaten public and wildlife health, to monitor the epidemiological situation through research conducted in the interests of Georgia, the Caucasus and the international community as a whole.

As the Western media say, as far back as 2002 the U.S. Department of Defence of the United States and the Ministry of Defence of Georgia signed an agreement ?On cooperation in the field of technologies and pathogens associated with the development of biological weapons and the proliferation of information in this area?. Two years later, it was agreed to establish a Central Public Health Reference Laboratory in the Alekseyevka village near Tbilisi.

The construction of the laboratory in Georgia was announced as part of the U.S. international program to reduce biological threats in the world, developed in 1991 by Senator Richard Lugar. Then, Deputy Defence Minister Mamuka Kudava said that for this project the U.S. originally allocated $15 million, which subsequently increased to $95 million. As a result, the project costs were $100 million that may mean ?the transparent activities? of this institution.

However, the national authorities assert that the laboratory will conduct work of peaceful nature only, but several objectionable facts do not permit to believe these words, causing doubts about the true nature of the US-Georgian biological laboratory:

- the laboratory and the bank of virus are located on the territory of military airport;

- the opening ceremony was attended by Andrew C. Weber, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs;

- director of the laboratory is Anna Zhvania, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Special Service of Georgia;

- besides Georgian specialists, also the U.S. military researchers will work in the laboratory;

- U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Bass said that the opening of the laboratory in Georgia is due to... ?its geographical location and the very idea of its organization?;

- access to the territory of the site is forbidden not only to journalists, citizens of the republic, but also to representatives of neighboring countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.

Despite the existence of these facts, Head of the PR Department, DTRA, U.S. Department of Defense, Richard Kohl said - that the laboratory (and it works within the program of this particular organization) is a structure equipped with modern equipment, working in close collaboration with the virus control programs of the ministries of health and agriculture, which will allow Georgia and its adjacent areas to more effectively resist various diseases and viruses potentially dangerous for human and animal health. Doctors and scientists working in the laboratory, are focused on identifying ways to protect public health, as well as on raising the level of virus detection and prevention, which will provide the laboratory?s prolonged activity and will promote the international cooperation with the World Health Organization.

But up to date it is known that the construction of the laboratory was funded just through the U.S. Defence Reduction Agency (DTRA), a member of the administration of the U.S. Department of Defense. Officially, DTRA is involved in monitoring the destruction of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, as well as in leading the fight against viral diseases that occur naturally or as a result of terrorist activities. Why is the U.S. Department of Defense Agency responsible for the project in Alekseyevka, and not the Ministry of Health of Georgia - remains a mystery.

The Georgian laboratory is not the only in the world. According to some observers, it is a link in a single chain of similar institutions equipped by the Americans in Europe, Thailand, Egypt and Kenya - the U.S. strategically important regions. For example, Europe is one of the axes of the American hegemony; Thailand is the U.S. Asian springboard, Kenya is a base for the extension of influence in East Africa and Indian Ocean, and Georgia?s choice for the construction of the laboratory is caused by the Russian borders proximity. And as stated by the representatives of the U.S. delegation in Tbilisi, the Georgian-American laboratory ?will actively cooperate with these laboratories?.

In turn, experts say that the viruses study laboratory, built by the U.S. in Georgia can also be a weapons training center. The Western media suggest that in the territory of Georgia the U.S. experts are already conducting the development of biological weapons. Particularly, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland, and the Georgian institute of microbiology, virology and bacteriophages, Tbilisi, are carrying out investigation of cholera causative agent and new methods for their identification.

Experts from Europe, assessing the situation give their estimates of what is happening.

?I think that it?s hard to believe, but if we assume that this information is true, then such work would spoil the country?s reputation, especially in the West. I do not think the Georgian government would want to lightly take the risk, because it is giving more care to impress the West favourably through the reforms and democratization. If one talks about the weapon itself, it is necessary to consider its potential in more detail and to assess what threat it can constitute,? said Ondrej Dietrich, the researcher of the Institute of International Relations, Prague.

In turn, director of the Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, Susan Foltani made an assumption why the U.S. can conduct such research in Georgia.

?I?m almost sure that the U.S. created the lab in Georgia because the laws in the Caucasian republic are not as strict as in the U.S. In my opinion, it is a key point for clarifying the situation,? she said.

Dr. Kamal Sido, Society for Threatened Peoples, answering the question why Georgia conducts secret biological research, said it is profitable for the government of the republic to have a ?trump card?.

?If Georgia has such a biological weapon, it will be able to use it as a ?trump card? against Russia, Armenia or Turkey, and indeed against any neighboring state, which can cause problems. For example, with Russia - it is a problem of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia also has problems with Armenia: we know that the country has a small plot of land, where Armenians live (Samtskhe-Javakheti). And with Turkey, there can be problems in the area of Batumi - Adzharia. In my view, if Saakashvili has such a weapon, it will be dangerous for the region, because the country will always use it, even to solve its internal problems. I think it needs to be done so that Georgia has no opportunity to have such a weapon,? said the expert.

Some Georgian politicians did not stand back either; thus, Georgian Green Party Head Georgi Gachechiladze was among the first who tried to draw public attention to the closed lab. In 2004 he led demonstrations against the construction of it. One of Georgi Gachechiladze?s requirements to the government was the opening of the access to the lab for journalists. But his demands did not get a hearing.

?I do not understand what the need was to build a similar lab in a small country like Georgia; it has no need of nuclear power stations or bacteriological laboratories of suspicious and unknown destination. In a region such as Georgia, the building of so dangerous objects - whether a laboratory or epidemiological nuclear power plant - means to deliberately take high risks. If, God forbid, there are terrorist attacks or military actions, such objectives will become the number one target,? said the head of the Green Party.

Another fact should be noted as the centers of African swine fever often occurring in the regions of the North Caucasus and southern Russia in 2008-2011.

According to the head of Rosselkhoznadzor Sergei Dankvert, the African swine virus entered the territory of Russia from Georgia, and in turn Rosselkhoznadzor offered the Georgian veterinary service its methodical, technical and counseling assistance. It was ready to send experts, asked mortem samples taken from diseased pigs for laboratory tests. Rosselkhoznadzor could not obtain comments in this connection, Tbilisi refused, which only confirms once more doubts about the laboratory ?transparency? and ?peaceful activities?, as previously stated.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar - a significant figure in the field of nonproliferation of WMD in the U.S. - in one of his reports on his trip to this facility even called it a ?laboratory for the storage of biological weapons.?

So, now one can with more confidence talk about the laboratory?s military purposes too, which were talked about for the first time after the publication of a report by the International Epizootic Bureau.

Anyways the alarm signal has sounded. In many laboratories of the world, including the military ones, experts create vaccines against dangerous diseases. They also develop virus strains so that new variants of pathogens might not be a surprise. Increasingly, however, they move from the human diseases to those of animals and plants. This fit itself in the popular conception in the West of non-lethal weapon for network-centric warfare aimed at not destroying the enemy but forcing him to carry out the will of the winner. And a blow on the food or economic base can be of fundamental importance.