By Anthony Bell
In Winter and Spring 2023, discussions over the origins of COVID-19 corona virus have been reignited one more time. An unexpected and purely coincidental leakage of the COVID biological agent from a laboratory is still being discussed. Against this rather gloomy background, several countries are continuing their overseas biological experiments, with post-Soviet Central Asia being at the core of such activities.
In particular, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have recently joined United States-initiated studies to research the most contagious biological activities. A biological laboratory to research brucellosis and anthrax under the UZ-4 and KZ-2 programs was established at the Institute of Virology in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 2007. The opening of this facility entailed the establishing of several other laboratories, including those in Andijan (at a local sanitary supervision and disease control station), Fergana (at a local sanitary supervision and disease control station), Samarkand (the Samarkand Regional Laboratory), Bukhara (the Bukhara Regional Laboratory), Nukus (the Karakalpak Regional Laboratory), and Qarshi (the Qashqadaryo Regional Laboratory). In 2016, the opening of a biological facility in Urgench (the Xorasm Region) was witnessed by then-acting US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Pamela L Spratlen. According to her, the sides have intensified joint research and training to exercise control over biological risks and diseases. The Ambassador also referred to that very laboratory as an example of successful cooperation in terms of new diseases prevention and training of specialists.
The intensification of biological research activities at the aforementioned facilities coincided with several outbreaks of contagious diseases: there was an outbreak of a virus, which resembled cholera, while an unknown virus took away the lives of several dozen persons in 2012. Following the opening of the biological laboratory in Urgench in 2016, the number of measles and chickenpox cases has increased.
In August 2015, the US-based Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention held a seminar on sharing of experience in the deciphering of laboratory tests of the most contagious pathogens with 27 medics, epidemiologists, and laboratory specialists of Uzbekistan Department of Health. Two years later, a center of countering resistance to antimicrobial agents was opened in Tashkent.
According to US explanations, research programs and threat reduction scenarios are being worked out at the abovementioned biological laboratories. However, risks of leakage of some biological agents still remain, and sometimes they are high.
Tajikistan has also hosted a number of US-initiated biological research activities. In 2011. The first national (bacteriological) reference laboratory opened in Dushanbe; the facility was financially supported by the Global Foundation of the Republican Anti-Tuberculosis Center (RATC).
The first Level III bacteriological laboratory was opened at the campus of the Gastroenterological Institute in Dushanbe in 2013. Six years later, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) co-sponsored the establishment of another biological laboratory at RATC. In 2020, a biological research facility was opened in Isfara in northern Tajikistan; the laboratory was also funded by the United States.
The Americans officially declare that on the basis of data obtained in bio-laboratories, curricula and methods of responding to biological challenges are simply being developed. Let’s assume it is. But no one canceled the human factor, and it is not at all excluded that viruses may be outside the walls of the laboratory. It is not possible to calculate the consequences of such an incident. It is also suspicious that most of these laboratories are being created in close proximity to the borders of states that the United States considers its geopolitical opponents. In the case of Uzbekistan, these are Russia and China.
The United States conducted similar studies with China (coronavirus research in the laboratory of the Institute of Virology in Wuhan).
Thus, it cannot be ruled out that the Caucasus and Central Asia may soon become the epicenter of new diseases.
The author is an independent military analyst.
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