The Next Front in Russia’s Propaganda Campaign Against the U.S.

On February 4 China and Russia issued a joint statement on “the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development.” This ponderous document announces a cooperative Sino-Russian relationship in everything from China’s Belt and Road development project to opposing Japan’s plans to release contaminated water from the Fukushima plant. The most significant change the document announces is that China  now formally opposes NATO enlargement (a notable position for China, which is nowhere near the North Atlantic). 

The joint statement could be interpreted as a permission slip from China to Russia for a further invasion of Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called it“further evidence that China has decided that they’re going to stand alongside Russia with respect to what’s going on in Europe.” The statement is certainly designed to be a very public sign of a solidifying anti-U.S., anti-liberal alliance between the second and third most powerful states on Earth. One section of the joint statement, toward the end, has been mostly ignored, but it touches on how Russia’s propaganda campaign against the West is about far more than Ukraine, and will last longer than any invasion. The paragraph is a sign of a rebirth of one of the weirdest episodes of the late Cold War: a massive Communist disinformation campaign to accuse the U.S. of secretly creating some of the worst pandemics. Here is the relevant passage

“The sides [China and Russia] emphasize that domestic and foreign bioweapons activities by the United States and its allies raise serious concerns and questions for the international community regarding their compliance with the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention]. The sides share the view that such activities pose a serious threat to the national security of the Russian Federation and China and are detrimental to the security of the respective regions…”

What kind of domestic and foreign bioweapons activities is this referring to? America has no biological weapons program, and the idea that the U.S. would conduct sensitive clandestine bioweapons research overseas would be preposterous, for security reasons alone. I spoke with Milton Leitenberg, an expert in Soviet and Russian biological warfare and biowar-disinformation, about this part of the joint statement. He told me that this paragraph is 1) extremely important, 2) unprecedented, and 3) absolutely and totally untrue. He added that he has no doubt at all that Putin and Xi know that it is untrue. Unlike some other kinds of Russian and Chinese propaganda, Leitenberg is certain that Putin’s and Xi’s intelligence agencies know that these accusations are all complete fabrications. 

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