October 15, 2013
A US-funded laboratory in the former Soviet republic of Georgia,
accused by a prominent Russian official Monday of developing biological
weapons, has been repeatedly touted by US officials as a key tool in
guarding the region against dangerous infectious diseases.
“This laboratory has the potential to become a regional center for
disease surveillance, research, as well as biosafety and security,” US
Sen. Richard Lugar said in a speech last year at the christening of the
laboratory that bears his name in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi,
several months before he retired from the Senate.
The laboratory, formally known as the Richard G. Lugar Center for
Public Health Research, became the target of a renewed attack by Russian
authorities Monday when Gennady Onishchenko, head of the state consumer
rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, expressed “extreme concern” about the
“According to our assessments, this laboratory constitutes an
important offensive link in the US military-biological capability,”
Onishchenko was quoted by Russian media as saying, adding that compounds
developed at the facility could be secretly employed to destabilize the
political and economic situation in Russia.
It was the latest in a series of accusations this year by Onishchenko
that the research center could be used for nefarious purposes,
allegations that US and Georgian officials have repeatedly denied.
“There still seems to be misperception that this laboratory is a
military facility or is engaged in biological weapons research which is
absurd,” Richard Norland, the US ambassador to Georgia, said in July.
Washington has funded the research center to the tune of $150 million
since its groundbreaking in 2004, according to US officials, an
initiative that came in the wake of the Rose Revolution that swept US
ally Mikheil Saakasvhili to the Georgian presidency.