Georgian Bio Labs

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Patrick Armstrong, Jul 25, 2013.

  1. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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    As many of you will know I have a sort of “thing” about Georgia. That is because I have seen Georgia used as a club to beat Russia with for 20 years. I lay out the argument in a chapter in The Fire Below. And, generally speaking, I’m prepared to believe just about anything about Saakashvili.
    But how about this?
    This being the Richard G Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia. From Lugar’s remarks at its opening we learn “My hope is that in relocating Georgia’s national Centers for Disease Control and Georgia’s collection of especially dangerous pathogens here, we will begin to achieve excellence and foster greater work and cooperation in the coming year.” (My italics). With some US military personnel. The name has been changed and this establishment has been put under another authority.
    And then there is the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory “a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, and the Georgian Ministry of Defense” it is to be “a state-of-the-art, internationally-certified central reference laboratory and a repository for infectious disease agents unique to the region”. There has been some concern by the locals about what this establishment is doing.
    Well well, what have we here? Now it should be understood that if one is going to study pathogens so as to be able to produce defences against them one must have the actual pathogens available. So the possession of pathogens is quite understandable. But why so strong a military connection? This is surely a public health and agriculture issue.
    So the facts seem to be that there are a number of pathogen research labs in Georgia at least one of which seems to be run by the US military. With, one assumes, the usual extraterritoriality that Washington demands.
    But now other things appear. There have been outbreaks of African Swine Fever in Russia and Ukraine this year, starting, the map would suggest, in the North Caucasus area and so possibly coming from Georgia which was hit hard in 2007. Russia’s chief sanitary officer (Rospotrebnadzor) Gennadiy Onishchenko connects the bio labs in Georgia with the outbreaks in Russia and Ukraine. But leaves open the question of intention or accident.
    He is also quoted as saying that the operations of the US military lab violate international conventions and expressed a concern that Georgian food exports to Russia, likely to grow very quickly, could be affected.
    Tbilisi insists that everything is above board.
    So some questions here.
    Saakashvili’s government almost always lied so one could be confident that an official denial was actually an admission. This is no longer the case. But how much would the new government (especially to people who regard Ivanishvili as a stooge of the Kremlin) know of what was going on in what would be a foreign-controlled facility?
    I am no expert on this sort of thing but it does seem possible that the ASF could have naturally spread from Georgia into southern Russia without any sinister war stuff. There are stories about the US putting ASF into Cuba in the 1970s but I am also old enough to remember the day when Pravda was telling us that AIDS was a disease engineered by the USA. Disinformation was an old KGB skill.
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  2. Philip Owen

    Philip Owen Office Registrar (13th class)

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    ASF has been breaking out sporadically in Russia since 2007. It may be established in the wild boar population on the Georgian border. The Ministry of Agriculture in Russia blames the boars and wants to exterminate them across European Russia. The Ministry of the Environment blames underreporting and illegal carcass disposal by village farmers and says that movement certificates will manage the problem (which is how Spain fixed it). The Russian form seems very virulent. At least 80% dead in 48 hours, so the infected wild boars are probably all dead quickly. There will be reinfection by new animals entering the area. Just the thing for the Sochi Olympics, mass extermination of wild boars. FWIW I think that closing small scale pig farms on the Georgian border would be more effective. That still leaves Georgia which reported a "clinical outbreak" (ie quickly detected and controlled) in 2008 and nothing since.

    The Saratov outbreak two years ago was on a prison farm and was directly traceable to importing animals from an infected area. All the domestic swine within 50 km were killed as a precaution.

    No big farm has been hit yet. A modern pig farm has 60,000 pigs and represents €45m of investment so protecting them is crucial. The air supply can be (usually is) filtered to keep out insect vectors. Feed and cleaning systems are automatic so humans can stay out for a couple of days if needed. The doors are usually double doors so they can be air locked. Grain trucks are a weak point. Already in Russia, it is standard procedure to use your own trucks to collect grain and wash and disinfect the trucks each trip on arrival home. It is likely that these places can withstand an epidemic on their door step. They did in Spain. It is even possible that their owners would welcome the removal of the small farm pig production which accounts for 60% (if the state statistics are believable) of Russian pork.

    Here's a link to scare you. Almost as good as a flu map.

    http://www.oie.int/wahis_2/public/wahid.php/Diseaseinformation/Diseasedistributionmap

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