On May, 26th, while Georgia was receiving congratulations from the neighboring and partner countries honoring its Independence Day, the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation disseminated another falsehood on the functioning of the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia.
The above-mentioned disinformation is of particular concern in the context when activity of the Center is widely recognized as one of the vital factors in successful struggle of the Government of Georgia against the coronavirus pandemic and functioning of the Center is highly appreciated by the Georgian society along with international community.
Georgia’s relevant agencies have repeatedly commented on the details of the status and functioning of the Center, however Russia’s constant provocations have forced us to address the issue again since we see the urgent need to attract attention of the international community to the Russia’s fabrications and rude attempts to diminish the role of successful institution contributing to the security of Georgia and throughout the entire region.
The Richard Lugar Public Health Research Center functions as an integral laboratory unit of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. The facility was launched in 2013 and represents the highest level institution of the Laboratory Network of Disease Epidemiological Surveillance which, itself, is a referral center of the Georgian Public Health System.
Construction of the facility started in 2004 based on a framework Agreement signed by the US and the Georgian Governments in 1997 as well as Agreement of 2002 between the US Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Georgia “On Cooperation in the field of prevention of the introduction of pathogenesis and experience related to biological weapons development.”
The Lugar Center, along with its equipment were fully transmitted to the ownership of the Government of Georgia and since 2018 the Lugar Center along with the laboratory network have been fully financed by the Government of Georgia. Structurally, the Lugar Center is a subdivision of the Center for Disease Control and a part of the Georgian Healthcare System.
The Lugar Center unites the 2nd and the 3rd level biosecurity laboratories equipped by the modern equipment with the aim to timely detect and identify the pathogens that cause dangerous diseases in humans and animals based on the principle of “United health”.
Three virology (poliomyelitis, influenza and measles) laboratories accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) operate in the Center. Besides, under the international quality control, the following laboratories operate at the facility: the diagnosis of rotavirus, invasive meningitis, malaria, antibiotic resistance, diphtheria and salmonellosis. The Center has an international ISO accreditation for the clinical laboratory research.
Laboratory capabilities of the Lugar Center are also used by the Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture (LMA) and the Eliava Research Institute of Bacteriophage. In addition, the Center’s capabilities are widely used by masters and doctoral students from relevant universities of various countries, including neighboring ones, to conduct scientific research.
Any research or activity at the facilities of the Center are carried out by the relevant experts exceptionally under the coordination and management of the competent Georgian agencies. The American partners have no role in setting the tasks for the Center, moreover they do not possess the possibility to conduct an independent research.
Georgia is fully committed to its international obligations under the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, including the requirements and provisions of the Convention on the Management of Biological Laboratories. Within the 7th Review Conference, the Member States have developed a mechanism for transparency and confidence-building – so called peer exercise, which appears to be the only instrument for transparency.
Within such mechanism and in order to ensure the transparency of the Richard Lugar Centre, Georgia hosted an international peer exercise at the facilities of the Centre on November 14-15, 2018. The above-mentioned event was organized jointly by the Georgian and German sides and Security and Bio experts from up to 20 countries were able to participate in this peer exercise. It is worth to mention that the invitation to participate has been also extended to the Russian experts, however a strict refusal of their participation has been received. This very fact clearly proves the ostentatious interest of the RF in operations at the laboratory.
On December 4-7, 2018, a meeting of the Member States of the Biological Weapons Convention took place at the UN Geneva office, where the report on the functioning of the Lugar Centre drafted by international experts gained a full approval and support.
Despite the above-mentioned, the Russian Foreign Ministry challenges the findings of the leading experts after their visit at the facility. Furthermore, based on the fake disinformation of suspicious “experts”, false allegations are widely spread specially in the Russian media sources thus clearly underlying incompetence and aggressive nature of their arguments.
As for the provision of the comment by the Information Department of the Russian MFA regarding the possible visit of the Russian experts to the Lugar Centre, it is noteworthy to mention that Georgia, as a responsible Member State of the Convention on Prohibition of Biological Weapons, is and always has been ready, to host competent Russian experts, who holds the relevant level security permission to access the facilities of the laboratory. However, such visits might be conducted within the framework of the Convention and in full compliance with the existing mechanism. There was such possibility in 2018, although Georgia is open to discuss the modalities of the peer exercise/visit with Member-States upon new initiative. At the same time, Georgia does not see the possibility for one-side unilateral visit taking into account Russia's rough and aggressive disinformation campaign with the only possible aim to diminish the functioning and researches at the facilities of the Lugar Centre.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia calls on the international community, primarily on the Member States of the Biological Weapons Convention, to assess the aggressive statements of the Russian Governmental Agencies toward Georgia; to condemn clear disinformation and to oppose the attempts to undermine the successful functioning of the institution exponential for the whole region. Despite the fact that Georgia does not have any bilateral legal commitment to the RF on the transparency of the Centre, the Georgian side expresses its readiness to host next peer exercise within the frame of the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons with participation of multinational team, including relevant Russian experts.