Ukraine does not have biological weapons, U.S. intel officials say

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WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) — Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines rejected Russia’s claims Thursday that Ukraine has biowarfare labs. That came during the second of two hearings this week on Capitol Hill focused on the intelligence community’s assessment of global threats.

“We do not assess that Ukraine is pursuing either biological weapons or nuclear weapons, which have been some of the, basically, propaganda that Russia is putting out,” Haines said.

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Russia has repeatedly alleged that Ukraine worked on developing of biological weapons near Russian borders, using funding from the Pentagon.

On Thursday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a televised briefing that the purpose of the research “was to establish a mechanism for the stealthy spread of deadly pathogens.”

U.S. officials repeatedly dismissed Russia’s allegations this week and said that Russia is, in effect, claiming a “false flag” attack to use as a pretext for further violence in Ukraine.

During the hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked Haines to clear up misinformation by stating directly whether Ukraine has any biological weapons facilities.

Haines said that Ukraine has more that a dozen biological research labs, but their work focuses on combating medical disasters, such as pandemics or outbreaks.

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Haines added that the United States aids multiple countries, including Ukraine, with laboratory health and safety precautions.

“Frankly, this influence campaign is completely consistent with longstanding Russian efforts to accuse the United States of sponsoring bioweapons work in [the] former Soviet Union,” Haines said. “This is a classic move by the Russians.”

While the hearing addressed a variety of global security threats, most questions concentrated on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and China.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked Haines about potential cooperation between Russia and China going forward, referring to increased communication between the two countries.

Haines said that the intelligence community anticipates the Russia-China relationship to grow across a variety of sectors in the coming years, but added that their relationship isn’t at the same point of cooperation that the United States holds with other countries.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine also are fracturing their relationship with China, according to CIA Director William Burns.

Despite increased cooperation between the two countries, Burns said, “the Chinese leadership, President Xi [Jinping] in particular, is unsettled by what he’s seeing” in Ukraine.

“His own intelligence doesn’t appear to have told him what was going to happen,” Burns said.

Burns said that Xi is particularly concerned about “the reputational damage that China suffers by associating with the ugliness of Russia’s aggression with Ukraine.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, “has a low bar in terms of concern about reputational damage,” Burns added.