By Ani Mejlumyan
(Eurasianet) – The Armenian government has said it will no longer share biological pathogen samples and outbreak data with the United States, amid a Russian campaign raising suspicions about US biological labs in the post-Soviet space.
On June 2, the government announced that it was amending a 2010 agreement between Armenia and the United States on “Cooperation in the field of preventing the proliferation of technologies, pathogens and expertise that could be used in the development of biological weapons”.
In Article IV of the agreement, the government noted in its decision, Armenia was obligated to “provide the United States Department of Defense with samples of dangerous pathogens discovered in Armenia.”
But now Armenia is working on a “comprehensive law on biosafety”, in which “it will be clearly stated that the Armenian side is not obliged to provide samples of pathogens to any state”. Later in the document, it is said that the decision was taken “by the need to ensure a balanced policy with partners in the field of biosafety and international cooperation”.
The US Embassy in Yerevan had not responded to requests for comment at the time this article was published. Calls to the Armenian National Security Council press office went unanswered. Article VII of the 2010 agreement allows either party to unilaterally modify or cancel the agreement upon 90 days written notice.
It’s unclear what prompted the decision, and government officials had no comment beyond the official advisory.
But it comes as Yerevan has hit back at accusations from Moscow that it may house secret US bioweapons facilities.
In recent years, the United States has funded the renovation and construction of a series of biological laboratories across Armenia, several in regional centers linked to a central laboratory in Yerevan. They are primarily “designed to track, monitor and combat infections,” the US Embassy said, and to “help the nation more effectively track and secure dangerous pathogens.”
The Armenian labs are part of a larger US effort to build similar labs around the world, especially in the post-Soviet space. Russia has long cast suspicion on this network – perhaps most vigorously in Georgia – suggesting that what Americans present as a simple effort to prevent the spread of disease around the world is in fact a secret and nefarious weapons program. biological anti-Russians.
Accusations have become more frequent since the start of the war in Ukraine. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations has spoken out particularly on the issue, mainly against Ukraine, but not only.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a May 23 interview, cited Armenia as one of several US-funded biological lab sites that were the subject of Russian concern.
“What is important is the transparency that allows us to ensure that these programs do not have a military dimension, as this is prohibited by the Convention [on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons]said Lavrov.
Lavrov said Russia was in the process of putting in place bilateral agreements with several post-Soviet countries allowing Russia to inspect facilities. But as early as 2019, Yerevan and Moscow had signed an agreement allowing Russian officials, including military personnel, access to the Armenian facilities in question.
“The main objective of this document is to honor the interests of all parties, to ensure that no one, none of our partners, has any fears regarding the laboratories,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said at the time.
This does not appear to have appeased Russia, and Armenian officials have now expressed confusion over what more Moscow might need to know.
“These issues have been raised before, we have created a working committee […] to ensure transparency. We invited Russian colleagues and were always open to discuss any issue at any time. And we’re sure we can address any concerns, which should be enough for the context of the issues raised. [by Russia]said the head of Armenia’s National Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, in a May 31 interview with local news site CivilNet.
“Maybe they have more questions, and we are talking with our Russian partners to answer the remaining questions,” he said. “Based on a memorandum signed between the countries, we are currently negotiating the execution of the responsibilities assumed by this memorandum,” he said. In 2021, Armenia and Russia signed a memorandum on biosafety cooperation.
“There are internal discussions within the Armenian government, and soon we will be ready for the final discussion,” Grigoryan said.
Separately, Grigoryan said senior National Security Council officials visited Moscow and “discussed all existing issues. […] The Armenian side gave comprehensive answers to all questions [Russian] specialists have spoken.
Armenia has for the most part taken a low-key stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Armenia is a treaty ally of Russia; as members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, both sides are obligated to defend each other. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Armenia has provided diplomatic support to Moscow in votes at the United Nations, but has otherwise tried to keep its head down.
*Ani Mejlumyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.