The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Russia, which never tires of a good conspiracy theory to explain its failures in Ukraine, has a yarn about biolabs being run by the United States in Kazakhstan.

In the darkest corners of social media, a Russian yarn has taken root—claiming the United States is deploying dozens of biolabs in Kazakhstan, allegedly relocated from Ukraine. This fever dream, spread by pro-Kremlin sources, warns that these biolabs pose a threat not merely to Russia, but to Southeast Asia as a whole.

Kazakhstani experts swiftly refuted these claims, delineating the benign objectives behind these labs. But why are these tales of biolabs gaining traction? And who stands to benefit?

Conspiracy theories, spread via pro-Kremlin social media channels, assert that Kazakhstan’s acquiescence was bought by U.S. economic support. Pro-Kremlin voices contend that the Central Asian nation is a prized location for the West, given its Soviet-era research centers originally designed to fight plagues and other infectious diseases. Despite their dilapidated state, these centers allegedly make fertile ground for these biolabs.

In a flourish of conspiracy, these pro-Kremlin voices further assert that U.S. support could significantly benefit Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, particularly set against the backdrop of the nation’s moderate economic performance. And so, these pro-Kremlin voices speculate, the biolabs not only endanger Russia and China but extend their shadow of risk to India and Pakistan—a theatre they suggest will be central to 21st-century geopolitics.

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Health addressed these allegations through the fact-checking portal “This is a fabrication. No plans exist for hosting foreign biolabs on Kazakh soil,” the ministry declared.

These narratives aren’t novel. They are part of a historical tapestry woven primarily by Russia, which has long propagated the claim that the U.S. is developing biological weapons. This echoes Cold War-era accusations by the Soviet Union and forms part of the broader information war between Moscow and Washington. Ironically, under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program aimed at eliminating WMDs, Russia had received up to $400 million annually until 2012. The Kremlin has repeatedly, and without evidence, accused the U.S. of developing bioweapons in nations like Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia.

Regarding the labs in question—these are primarily engaged in public health research. The Almaty Central Reference Laboratory, for instance, plays a crucial role in combating pathogens and was instrumental in Kazakhstan’s COVID-19 response. Constructed with $130 million of U.S. funding, the lab conducts research independently, following the withdrawal of American technical support in 2020.

The narrative woven by Russian media and echoed by pro-Kremlin voices both in Russia and in the United States by far-right personalities like Tucker Carlson is easily debunked, yet it finds an audience. Is it designed to divert attention from Russia’s internal and external challenges? Perhaps. But what is indisputable is that these labs, far from being instruments of global danger, serve as a bulwark against it.

As unfounded allegations against Kazakhstan—and by extension, against the U.S.—continue to circulate, it’s essential to recognize them for what they are: a smokescreen. These labs, whether in Almaty or Gvardeisky, remain committed to safeguarding public health, and their work disintegrates any baseless claims of malevolence upon contact.

Theo Casablanca is a blogger who lives in Brasília.