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Olympic Obfuscation: At Games, China-Russia Jab U.S. on Chemical Weapons

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022. (Aleksey Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022. (Aleksey Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS)
Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin

Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin

China and Russia presidents

"Russia and China insist that the United States, as the only state party to the Convention that has not completed the process of destroying chemical weapons, accelerate the elimination of its chemical weapons stockpiles."


On February 4, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing before the opening of the Winter Olympics in China, where the Russian team is competing under a neutral flag as a penalty for a massive state-sponsored Olympics doping scandal.

Xi and Putin reaffirmed solidarity on a wide range of global issues. Russia declared its commitment to the “One China” principle, stating that Taiwan is “an integral part of China” and that Moscow opposes “Taiwan independence in any form.”

China backed Russia’s resistance to NATO expansion. However, the joint statement did not specifically mention the Kremlin’s ongoing military buildup around Ukraine, or its past annexation of Crimea and military machinations in the Donbass region.

Xi and Putin did, however, pointedly attack the United States' record of compliance with chemical and biological weapons agreements.

From their joint statement:

"China and Russia are deeply concerned about the politicization of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and call on all its members to strengthen solidarity and cooperation and to uphold the tradition of consensus-based decision-making.

"Russia and China insist that the United States, as the only state party to the Convention that has not completed the process of destroying chemical weapons, accelerate the elimination of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

“The parties emphasize that the domestic and foreign military-biological activities of the United States and its allies cause serious concerns and questions among the international community regarding their compliance with the BTWC [Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention].

"The parties share the view that such activities pose a serious threat to the national security of the Russian Federation and China and cause damage to the security of the respective regions.”

This characterization is highly misleading.

Biological weapons

China and Russia routinely accuse the U.S. military of developing and using biological weapons both domestically and abroad. Fact-checkers repeatedly have debunked this disinformation narrative.

An example is Russia’s recurring misrepresentation of the U.S.-funded Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, popularly known as the “Lugar Lab” after its patron, the late U.S. Senator Richard Lugar.

Here are a few past claims with links to detailed fact checks:

False: “The Lugar Lab produced novichok” – the deadly Soviet-era family of nerve agents used to poison Alexey Navalny.

False: “COVID-19 was an act of U.S. bioterrorism, and the virus that causes the illness was created in Lugar Lab.”

False: “U.S. biologists conduct secret experiments on Georgians in the Lugar Lab.”

False: “The Lugar Lab spreads deadly pathogens among humans and animals.”

The U.S. Embassy in Georgia told in 2018 that, “Lugar Center’s mission is to contribute to the protection of citizens from biological threats, promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection, epidemiological surveillance and research for the benefit of Georgia, the Caucasus region and the global community.” At that time, the embassy said, the lab had never conducted any clinical trials. More on the continuing campaign against the lab can be found here.

Russia’s chem-bio disinformation campaign against the U.S. has a years-long history. China’s attacks multiplied after the coronavirus pandemic in China’s Wuhan province raised questions about whether Chinese authorities were slow to report the virus or withheld information, particularly because of suspicions concerning research activities at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The precise origins of the SARS-2-Cov virus behind the pandemic remain a matter of scientific debate. Nonetheless, Chinese officials and state media have made numerous false accusations, particularly attacking the U.S. Army’s bioresearch laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland:

False: “AIDS/HIV made in the U.S.”

False: “SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was made in the U.S. Army biolab in Fort Detrick.” And other Fort Detrick-related claims…

False: “Ralph Baric, a top coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, created the virus.”

False: “The U.S. Army brought coronavirus to Wuhan.”

China and Russia have targeted disinformation at the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which is tasked with evaluating and eliminating challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

A DTRA branch called the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR), which focuses on biological threats, has been frequently targeted by “certain countries” that “try to falsely undermine and discredit the program's efforts,” DTRA said in a recent video rebuttal.

The United States unilaterally halted its biological weapons program in 1969 and destroyed all biological warefare agents in 1971-1973. The U.S. currently conducts related research but only as part of its biodefense program, according to the independent watchdog

Chemical weapons

Both the U.S. and Russia developed and stockpiled chemical weapons during the Cold War era. By 1968, the U.S. stockpile reached some 40,000 tons. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has never used chemical weapons in warfare.

The United States started disposing of its chemical weapons in the late 1960s, decades before it joined the International Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty in 1997.

From 1967 to 1970, the United States loaded thousands of tons of chemical weapons on old ships and sank them in the sea. This raised environmental concerns, and in 1970 the U.S. Congress passed a law directing that the Defense Department’s plans for destroying chemical weapons must be reviewed and approved by public health agencies to ensure the safety to people, animals and the environment.

In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring that all U.S. chemical stockpiles be destroyed.

After the U.S. ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, the OPCW set a deadline for the U.S. by 2007. That deadline was extended to 2012, and then to 2023. Now, the U.S. says it has eliminated about 90 percent of its chemical weapons and that those remaining are at two locations – Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky.

According to the Russian Center of Ecological Policy and other sources, at the time of its collapse in 1991, the Soviet Union had stockpiled some 110,000 tons of chemical warfare agents.

The OPCW initially set a deadline for Russia to destroy its stockpiles by 2007. The United States, Canada and United Kingdom contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia’s chemical weapons destruction program.

In 2017, Russia declared it had destroyed all its chemical weapons. One key difference, however, is that Russia’s definition of “destruction” is different than that of the United States.

For the United States, “destruction” of chemical weapons is a multistep process ending with the complete and safe elimination of all stockpiles. Here is how experts working at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant described that process:

“Under the close supervision of trained operators, the pilot plant uses dozens of automated systems to disassemble and drain the munitions and thermally heat the drained munition bodies.

"The liquid agent is neutralized, and the product, hydrolysate, is then fed to living microorganisms in a process known as biotreatment. Water is recycled at the pilot plant and the remaining salt is shipped off-site to a permitted treatment, storage and disposal facility.

"The plant is equipped with a robust pollution abatement system made up of 12 carbon filter banks that filter out particles before air from inside the plant is released back into the atmosphere.”

According to an agreement between the OPCW and Russia, Moscow can claim full disposal of its chemical weapons stockpiles after completing only the first stage of that process, which doesn't address massive amounts of toxic waste.

Paul Walker, director for Environmental Sustainability at Green Cross International, who has personally inspected chemical weapons stockpiles and U.S. and Russian disposal processes, told in 2018:

“If you define the destruction process as only first-stage, then they’ve [Russia] completed the process. They’ve destroyed the whole stockpile. But if you define it as needing a second-stage process, then they far and away haven’t finished the process yet. In reality, they still have a long way to go to finish the process – clean up the toxic waste they’ve left.”

Moreover, Russia reportedly admitted using the same method of disposing of its chemical weapons that the U.S. abandoned due to environmental hazards in late 1960s. According to Russia’s TASS and Interfax state news agencies, as of 1995, “at least 160,000 tons of chemical weapons” were “buried in Russian seas, posing a grave threat to ecology and the health of man.”

Lev Fyodorov, a Russian scientist who is president of the Union for Chemical Safety, has compiled the most comprehensive database on Russia’s chemical weapons industry, including a list of land and sea dumping sites. According to Fyodorov, dumping was the main method Russia used to get rid of its chemical stockpiles, which created “enormous” environmental problems that would pose danger for generations.


The activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are regulated by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which the U.S., China and Russia are signatories. Under the CWC, chemical weapons are categorized by “Schedules,” with the most dangerous identified as “Schedule 1” – the category for chemicals and their precursors that have primarily military uses.

In 2019, the CWC, for the first time since its creation, modified the list of Schedule 1 chemicals to include Russia’s “novichok” nerve agents. Russia opposed the move, claiming that the chemicals had been used for legal commercial purposes, but it lost the argument. The OPCW said novichok family chemicals have “no known uses beyond serving as chemical warfare agents and their precursors.”

The Schedule 1 modification was triggered by two alleged cases of the Russian state using novichok to poison people.

British authorities accused Russia of using novichok in the town of Salisbury in 2018 to poison a former Russian military spy, Sergey Skripal, and his daughter. Russia denied it, producing an array of false explanations for the poisoning.

Then, in August 2020, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned and flown to Germany for treatment. Authorities there said novichok had nearly killed him.

Bellingcat, a group of investigative journalists, reported in 2020 that Russia, after announcing in 2017 that it had destroyed its CW, continued a clandestine program to further develop and weaponize chemical agents for the use by its military and intelligence services.

In a series of investigations, Bellingcat provided compelling evidence of the Russian security services’ involvement in poisoning Navalny with novichok.

“Navalny,” a documentary film based on Bellingcat’s investigations, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and will be distributed by HBO MAX and CNN later this year.

On January 26, the European Union’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said Russia must cooperate with the OPCW to investigate the “alleged development, production, stockpiling, and use of a chemical weapon.” PACE concluded that “ample medical evidence” showed that Navalny was poisoned with novichok, and that agents of Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s main state security agency, were “possibly involved.”

The United States and other countries have accused Russia at the United Nations Security Council of complicity in war crimes in Syria. The accusations were based on OPCW reports that forces of Syria’s President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians during the country’s civil war, killing and injuring thousands. Russia is allied with the Assad regime.