What the Covid-19 Outbreak Reminds-2: Russia’s Biological Weapon Researches

Researches on vaccination for fighting with the Covid-19 pursued at a great pace all over the world. However, the pace of the pandemic cannot be reduced to the desired level. Furtherly, the threat level of the mutated virus cannot be predicted precisely and different opinions are put forward on what developments will occur concerning pandemic. In this atmosphere, it revealed that discussions about the source of the pandemic and the conspiracy theories on this issue have substantially decreased. Prevalent discussions focus on the future, rather than past. The conspiracy theories put forward after the vaccination enter into process, focus on the side effects of the vaccine (mostly in negative terms) rather than the source of the virus.

As we mentioned in our previous article, the vast majority of states, mainly Turkey, voiced conspiracy theories about the source of the virus, is generally formed within the framework of the Western states. Although the debates on vaccination researches have progressed in this direction, the widespread use of the China originated vaccine and the development of a vaccine by Russia have led the conspiracy theories by East, such as Western conspiracy theories, to come into question. The progress of China and Russia in vaccination has also call attention to the biological weapons programs of these two states and the vaccine production studies initiated against it. Accordingly, the vaccine capability is shaped, in a sense, within the light of the experiences gained through researches such as biological weapons, viruses and bacteria.

In the previous analysis, we stated that China is one of the most victimized state by biological weapons in history. Russia carried out one of the most comprehensive biological weapons studies known in history, who also played an important role in announcing the biological weapon attacks and tests carried out by Japan against the Chinese to the international society. In this respect, it is presumed that Moscow carried out its researches and has a great knowledge of biological weapons studies and the measures to be taken against it; until the destruction of existing weapons and facilities was given by Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

There are various claims regarding when Russia’s researches on biological weapons launched. One of the claims states, following the typhus epidemic in the Red Army between 1918 and 1921, the Soviet military officials used typhus as a biological weapon. Soviet Union ordered the researches on the matter, in 1928, to pursued by Kanatzhan Bayzakovich Alibek who is Kazakh origin and played a very important role in the biological weapons studies of the Soviet Union and immigrated to the USA in 1992.[i] Indeed, Eric Croddy points out that this epidemic, which killed 30 million people, convinced Soviet military officials that typhus could be used as an effective biological weapon.[ii] Yet, numerous sources stated that Russia’s researches on biological weapons were mainly initiated in 1928 by the Military Institute of Chemistry

After the 1928, the work of the Soviet Union started to fructify and before the World War II, it has revealed that, large amount of typhus in powder form were obtained.[iii]  Indeed, in 1938, the Russian General Varashilav said, “If our enemies use biological weapon then we will also use it against them.”[iv] and this regarded as a proof for aforementioned statement. However, it is convenient to argue Soviet Union had pursued its researches on biological weapons after World War II. Because during the war, the Soviet Union’s invasion of China also Japan’s capture of documents and personnel in biological weapons facilities were an important turning point in the Moscow administration’s biological weapons studies. It is alleged that Josef Stalin ordered Lavrenty Beria, the Chief of the State Security Committee (KGB), to do a more comprehensive study than the work of the Japanese.[v]

Development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles gave start to an intense debate in the Soviet Union about the necessity of biological weapons studies. Despite of this, military and political authorities decided to continue biological weapons studies and researches were accelerated in the 1970s. The classified directive carried by Leonid Brezhnev in 1972 focus on increasing the effectiveness of biological weapons and aimed at taking a step towards both the studies based on modern techniques (genetically modified biological agents) and the launching of these weapons with intercontinental ballistic missiles.[vi] Biopreparat Facilities with thousands of employees played a major role in these activities called “second generation studies” in the Soviet Union.[vii]

During this period, the work of the Soviet Union reached a size that could store 20,000 tons of smallpox viruses annually. Alibek, who was the Deputy Director of the Biopreparat Facilities, stated that the biological weapons program of the Soviet Union reached its peak in the late 1980s, around 60,000 people worked in the biological weapon program and only 30,000 worked at the Biopreparat Facilities.[viii]

In 1987, following the instruction of Mikhail Gorbachev to gradually minimize the program, the process decelerated and in 1992 Boris Yeltsin ordered to terminate the program and to destroy existing weapons and facilities, hereby the program in question terminated. Onwards, USA, England and Russia made cooperation and commitment on the destruction of biological weapons and the use of scientists working in this field by third states. However, in the following years, Russia ended such cooperation.

As a result, Russia has a great history on production of biological weapons in terms of both knowledge, facility and personnel capacity. Accordingly, it is convenient to argue that Moscow administration has a significant experience in measures to be taken against biological weapons and has used this knowledge in vaccination researches, carry out against Covid-19. Considering the destructiveness of the Covid-19 virus, it can be stated that Russia will not want to eliminate its knowledge on an effective weapon such as biological weapon.


[i] Ken Alibek-Stephen Handelman, “Biohazard: The Chilling Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World”, Random House, s. 33.

[ii] Eric Croddy, “Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Comprehensive Survey for the Concerned Citizen”, Springer, s. 233.

[iii] Alibek-Handelman, a.g.m., s.35.

[iv] Walter Duranty, “Soviet Threatens to Use Gas in War”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1938/02/23/archives/soviet-threatens-to-use-gas-in-war-voroshiloff-asserts-bacteria.html, (Erişim Tarihi: 12 Mayıs 2020).

[v] Alibek-Handelman, a.g.m., s. 37.

[vi] Alibek-Handelman, a.g.m., s. 41.

[vii] Malcolm Dando, “The New Biological Weapons Threat, Proliferation and Control”, Lynne Rienner, s. 11.

[viii] Alibek-Handelman, a.g.m., s.89.

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Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ, Atatürk Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümünde Misafir Öğretim Görevlisi. Başlıca çalışma alanı güvenlik kuramları olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Oğuz, aynı zamanda ANKASAM Güvenlik Danışmanı’dır.

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