Tuesday, October 15, 2013

US Lab in Georgia at Center of Storm Over Biological Warfare Claims

RIA Novosti
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 lab.

“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.

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