Vladimir Putin compares Ukraine's efforts to 'Nazi regime'
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The State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo – known as “Vector” – is currently one of two sites in the world to hold stock of smallpox, a disease eradicated by humans. The laboratory was previously used under the orders of Mikhail Gorbachev to develop biological weaponry, according to the account of a former scientist.
They said it worked on diseases that could liquefy human organs once exposed.
Despite being a signatory of the Biological Weapons Convention, there are fears Russia continues to hold stocks of deadly viruses it could unleash on the population.
Last year, a US State Department report claimed that Russia “maintains an offensive biological weapons program”.
It comes at a particularly worrying time, as Vladimir Putin’s invading force in Ukraine appears to show no concern for civilian life.
Vector has clearance to handle some of the world’s deadliest viruses, and has conducted research into avian flu, measles and rabies, according to the International Science and Technology Centre.
It says it now focuses on research into virology, genetic engineering and biotechnology.
The laboratory aims to develop “effective means and methods for the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of infectious diseases” and “the production of agents to counteract infectious pathogens”.
However, the site has a much murkier past, as a hub for biological warfare research at the height of the Cold War.
Established in 1974 by Biopreparat, the Soviet Union’s biological warfare agency, the centre was designated to conduct viral research.
According to Ken Alibek, a microbiologist who worked there, Vector had stagnated while Russian efforts focussed on bacterial weaponry.
However, in 1987, it was given a new lease of life by Gorbachev, he said, who gave a billion dollars to the research.
Mr Alibek was tasked to go to the centre as the Soviet’s “military leaders had decided to concentrate on one of the toughest challenges of bioweaponeering – the transformation of viruses into weapons of war”, he wrote in his 1999 account.
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He said that during his time there, Vector had structures for experiments with contagious viruses including smallpox, Lassa fever and Machupo.
There were also “explosive test chambers”, he claimed.
Mr Alibek said that in December of 1990, “we tested a new smallpox weapon in aerosol form inside Vector’s explosive chambers. It performed well.
“We calculated that the production line in the newly constructed Building 15 at Koltsovo was capable of manufacturing between eighty and one hundred tons of smallpox a year.
“Parallel to this, a group of arrogant young scientists at Vector were developing genetically altered strains of smallpox, which we soon hoped to include in this production process.”
The former Soviet scientist recounted an incident in which a researcher accidentally injected Marburg into his thumb.
Mr Alibek said the virus “appeared to liquefy body organs” and sent one man “mad after the organism chewed away his brain cells”.
He noted: “Marburg quickly proved to have great potential.”
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