The latest seasonal outbreak of conspiracy theories in Russia has it that the Americans are infecting the former Soviet Union with swine flu through a laboratory in Georgia.
A surge in H1N1 influenza in the Caucasus provided a fresh news peg for Russian paranoia about a US-funded biolab in Georgia, named after former US Senator Richard Lugar. The Kremlin long has declared the facility a bioweapon planted by the US next to the Russian border, and blamed it for spreading everything from anthrax to cow madness.
Now, Russian media, be it the Kremlin’s international propaganda arm Sputnik or local tabloids, are connecting the dots between post-Soviet sneezing and the Indiana Republican. Russian news cited concerns about the Georgian facility in neighboring Armenia, where the swine-flu death toll reached 18 last week, but all such headlines seem to be coming from Russia.
Even reporting on denials from Georgian health officials offers Russian media an opportunity to keep the theories in the spotlight.
“This is utter nonsense . . . spewed by the special services of a certain country,” said Paata Imnadze, deputy chief of the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. The Lugar Lab’s mission, Innadze said, is to study and prevent the spread of diseases in humans and animals.
Or is it? asks Russia’s Regnum news service. Then explain the spread of swine fever and poultry flu in Georgia after the Americans brought in that lab, the Regnum story goes. Sure, the Georgians can claim that with this state-of-the-art lab they are better equipped to diagnose diseases, but many are not buying that, the outlet knowingly claimed.
Last year, Moscow charged that the US is encircling Russia with “covert medico-biological facilities” to develop “weaponized diseases.”
“The American and Georgian authorities are trying to cover up the real nature of this US military unit, which studies highly dangerous infectious diseases,” Russia Today, another Kremlin-propaganda tool, quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying in reference to the Lugar Lab.
The Americans-poisoned-the-well theories, which included reports of infected meat being thrown from Georgia into Russia, complicated Georgian attempts to mend post-2008-war ties with Moscow and return agricultural exports to Russian markets. In 2013, Georgian officials took Russian journalists on a tour to the Lugar Lab to prove that there are no hooded Illuminati there, no vapor-spewing vials or bubbling cauldrons. But, apparently, it did not appease the Russians in the long term.