Never heard of the Lugar laboratory in Georgia? Neither have many of us. But it is a familiar name for the readers of a whole network of websites promoting the most obscure pro-Kremlin conspiracies globally.
Just to highlight some examples:
2016: The US is constructing secret biological labs in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine to attack Russia.
2017: American laboratory in Georgia creates biological weapons.
2018: US laboratory in Georgia is like a Nazi death camp and people living close to it like Mengele’s patients.
One strand of Russia’s large and months-long disinformation campaign around the Salisbury attack – which backfired latest in September and continues to backslide – has been spreading the usual smokescreen that anybody else but Russia is behind the use of chemical weapons on European soil.
When the attempt to confuse and distract the majority of the European audience about the attack failed, efforts shifted and started to focus on the disinformation heavy users. In general, this aim of pushing the conspiracies from marginal to the mainstream attention has already gained results among the Russian-speaking audience: Conspiracy theories are on average six to nine times more frequent now than they were in 2011 in Russian media.
In the specific case of Georgia, this has led to coordinated efforts, including a press conference organised in Moscow right after the UK released the names of the two Salisbury attack suspects. In the briefing, Georgia’s ex-security chief (who fled to Moscow years ago) claimed the Lugar laboratory creates biological weapons, and the topic was extensively covered by Russian TV channels.
In April, these claims were presented by Russia’s Foreign Ministry that came out with its own hint: A Georgian trace might be found in the Skripal poisoning! These conspiracies have reached Bulgaria, English-language blogs and ZeroHedge – and of course Russia’s disinformation channels Russia Today and Sputnik.
So, finally, let us introduce you to the The Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL)! It is a laboratory based in Tbilisi, Georgia, which detects and tackles disease outbreaks. The United States provided USD 350 million for the construction and technical equipment of the laboratory. From this year on, the Government of Georgia will assume responsibility for full funding and operation of the Lugar center and laboratory network. In fact, Russia has itself given support to a similar facility in Armenia (also facing repeated pro-Kremlin disinformation attacks).
This week, the civil war road show travelled north east and we heard that same urgent alert regarding the Baltic countries: now it is Latvia that has apparently joined the European countries waging an internal war.
Ukraine is the only country from these targets of Russia’s disinformation where in fact a war is ongoing. And despite Russia’s disinformation, it is not a civil war, but a war provoked and maintained by Russia itself.