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Escape of smallpox-infected beetles: Robert Kennedy Jr. repeats and Russia's Channel One embellishes false claims of Ukrainian biolabs

During a news broadcast on Channel One, a narrative unfolded where Robert Kennedy Jr., vying against Joe Biden for the Democratic Party's presidential candidacy and known to our readers via our Anti-Fake coverage, leveled accusations against both the United States and Ukraine for their involvement in producing biological weaponry:

“The ongoing rivalry between Republicans and Democrats is uncovering increasingly murky facets of U.S. foreign policy. Robert Kennedy Jr., a contender for the Democratic presidential seat, alleged that the U.S. had established laboratories in Ukraine under the Pentagon's biological weapon development initiative, a project dating as far back as 2001. The entire operation is purportedly overseen by Anthony Fauci, a prominent American infectious disease specialist who, only a year prior, held the role of Joe Biden's primary medical advisor. These revelations came to light in an interview with former television host Tucker Carlson.
‘Our presence of bio laboratories in Ukraine is attributed to our pursuit of bio weaponry development. In 2001, we resumed the race in biological armament, prompting substantial investments from the Pentagon. The responsibility for ensuring biosecurity was entrusted to a specific agency under the Ministry of Health, under the direction of Anthony Fauci.
In 2014, three beetles broke free from three different laboratories. These were no ordinary insects—they carried perilous infections like smallpox and other treacherous microorganisms. This revelation became public knowledge, prompting hearings in Congress. To address the issue, Obama enacted a moratorium, effectively putting an end to 18 of Anthony Fauci's most alarming experiments. However, rather than adhering to these measures, Fauci relocated his research overseas, with a significant portion landing in the Wuhan laboratory, which consequently contributed to the transmission of much of his work to Ukraine.’”

The primary source of information about American laboratories in Ukraine allegedly developing biological weapons is the Russian Ministry of Defense. Our “Anti-Fake” column has repeatedly addressed this sensational narrative. Kennedy Jr. hasn't introduced anything fundamentally new to this narrative, except for his assertion of the involvement of Anthony Fauci, a renowned immunologist who has advised seven presidents from Reagan to Biden.

Kennedy Jr. became engrossed in his campaign against Fauci long before he pursued the presidential candidacy and advocated a pro-Kremlin agenda. In 2021, he published a book titled “The Real Anthony Fauci,” where he accused the researcher of nothing short of a “historical state coup aimed at Western democracy.” Speaking at an anti-mandatory COVID-19 vaccination rally in Washington, Kennedy compared vaccination alongside the implementation of 5G cellular networks and satellite surveillance systems to the Holocaust.

The story about the Obama administration's closure of 18 of Fauci's research programs actually goes like this: In October 2014, the administration imposed a year-long moratorium on federal funding for virological research involving gain-of-function methods, which artificially enhance the functions of viruses, making them more contagious or virulent. This has nothing to do with developing biological weapons; rather, it's used for studying virus properties, predicting potential epidemics, and creating vaccines. The moratorium was introduced to assess potential risks and safety measures before resuming research. Of course, during the American moratorium, experiments continued in other countries, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. According to Fauci's claims, the U.S. never funded research in the Chinese institute. Kennedy's version of research being transferred to Ukraine is entirely baseless, relying solely on statements from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Barack Obama's stance on Fauci can be discerned from his reaction to Donald Trump's statement during the 2020 election campaign about intending to dismiss the researcher, who at that time served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. During a rally in support of Biden's candidacy, Obama stated:

“He told his supporters that he's going to fire Dr. Fauci right after the election... He's stated publicly he’s going to fire the one person in this administration, a carryover [from my time as President] who's been advising me on dealing with Ebola, with [pig swine virus] H1N1, with the avian flu, with HIV/AIDS. He's one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases... They're talking about firing the one person who could actually help them to contain the pandemic.”

However, the most fantastical element in the Channel One narrative is the story about the simultaneous escape of three infected smallpox beetles from three different laboratories. The fact is, smallpox is only transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets, and insects cannot be infected by it at all. There is no known natural reservoir of this virus, meaning there is no species in nature from which it could be transmitted to humans. It's likely that such a reservoir species existed in the past, but either due to virus mutations it was abandoned by the virus or infected populations became extinct.

So, from where did the story of the infected beetles originate? It's no longer an assertion by Kennedy; rather, it's an original concoction by the editorial team at Channel One. In the initial context, Kennedy's statement read as follows:

“In 2014, three of those bugs escaped in high-profile escapes from different labs in the US.”

The word “bug” in English was translated by Channel One as “жук” (beetle), but among its meanings, according to the Merriam Webster American English dictionary, there is also the colloquial meaning of “a microorganism, especially pathogenic bacteria or viruses.” The accurate translation would be:

“In 2014, three of those microorganisms escaped from different labs in the US, garnering significant attention.”

This is how the narrative of freedom-seeking beetles infected with smallpox came about. Evidently, Kennedy was referring, in part, to an incident in Bethesda, Maryland, where unclaimed vials labeled “Variola” (the Latin name for smallpox) were discovered in cardboard boxes during the cleanup of a lab facility by the Food and Drug Administration as it prepared to move. The vials were destroyed under the supervision of WHO staff. This incident likely contributed to the 2014 moratorium.

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