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‘The war photos are fake — but the bioweapons are real’ 15 days into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia's information war continues at full throttle.

Source: Meduza
Evgeniy Maloletka / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Russia and Ukraine’s foreign ministers held talks in Turkey on Thursday, but found little common ground. According to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, one of Ukraine’s main goals was to get Russia to agree to a 24-hour ceasefire. This didn’t happen, he said, because “other individuals are in charge of this matter” on the Russian side. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in turn, stated that “nobody has any intention of agreeing to a ceasefire.” What the negotiations did bring, though, was a new wave of startling claims from the Russian side. Meduza sorts out the facts below.

Russia alleged Ukraine is working to develop ‘ethnically oriented’ bioweapons at the direction of the U.S.

Russia has a history of accusing Ukraine and the U.S. of developing biological weapons, but their rhetoric has ramped up considerably in recent days. Igor Kirillov, chief of Russia’s radiation, chemical, and biological protection force, claimed that Ukranian scientists were studying ways to spread high-risk infections using migratory birds and bats, and that “one of the goals of the U.S. and its allies is to create bioagents capable of selectively infecting various ethnic groups.” Lavrov echoed this idea, saying the U.S. and Ukraine were conducting “not peaceful experiments but experiments aimed at creating biological weapons that are, shall we say, ethnically oriented.”

We looked into the statements made by Russian military officials and diplomats (as well as the answers given by the Ukrainian and American authorities) and determined that Russia has presented no evidence that Ukrainians have worked to develop biological weapons. The material published by RIA Novosti about pathogens being destroyed at the beginning of the war do not constitute evidence; the bacteria listed in the document are common strains of bacteria. It’s also important to note that biological weapons capable of differentiating people into separate groups do not currently exist.

Russia denied bombing a maternity hospital

On Thursday, March 10, a maternity hospital in Mariupol was bombed. According to the local authorities, three people died (including one child) and 17 were injured. The incident caused so much outrage that Russian officials were eventually forced to comment on the incident. Many of the details given in various statements were contradictory, but they all boiled down to the same idea: that the story is fake.

Russian Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova shared a post from a Telegram channel called “The War on Fakes” about how media reports of the bombing were staged. The post gave two arguments: first, that two of the women photographed at the scene were allegedly “played” by the same person, a blogger from Mariupol; secondly, it claimed that while the woman is actually pregnant (which is clear from her blog posts), she couldn’t really be a patient at that hospital because the hospital was taken over by the far-right Azov Battalion and converted into a military base. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya made a similar claim on March 7.

Both arguments raise some questions. The beauty blogger mentioned in the post does in fact seem to be the person featured in media reports from the hospital, but this in no way proves that the event was staged. There’s also no way to confirm that the second woman seen in the reports (who seems to have been injured) is the same person. Nonetheless, both claims have already appeared on the Russian Interior Ministry’s social media accounts — though Vasily Nebenzya’s claim had referred to a different hospital, and to the Ukrainian military as opposed to the Azov Battalion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also referred journalists to Nebenzya’s statement, referring to the hospital as a Azov base. Lavrov didn’t deny that the building was damaged, but he claimed it was an enemy target that contained no civilians. Later that day, however, Defense Ministry representative Igor Konashenkov stated that Russian aircraft had carried out “absolutely no tasks that involved hitting ground targets” in Mariupol, and that the entire event was a “completely staged provocation.” Konashenkov also claimed that the hospital had been taken over by the Azov Battalion — and, unlike Nebenzya, he named the correct hospital.

Photographer Yevgeny Maloletka, who took some of the photos that Russian officials have accused of being fake, told The Insidеr, “We photographed what was happening. There was an airstrike, and the hospital was full of people. People were coming out of the basement and the building — and we recorded it. The Azov Battalion wasn’t there.”

Translation by Sam Breazeale

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