Russian Conspiracy Theory Says U.S. Training Birds to Spread Bio Weapons

After accusing the U.S. of producing bioweapons in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense has added another feather-ruffling theory to their accusation: That the U.S. is training birds in Ukraine to spread deadly diseases among Russian citizens.

The claim is just one of many false claims that Russia has offered to justify its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, including the baseless allegation that Ukrainian officials were committing genocide against ethnic Russians.

Major General Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesman for the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, discussed the plot Thursday on RIA Novosti, a TV media outlet controlled by the Russian government.

Konashenkov claimed that U.S. forces had planned to infect birds with a spreadable form of the H5N1 flu strain "with a mortality rate of 50 percent" as well as Newcastle disease, the privately-owned Russian news outlet Pravda reported.

Newcastle disease is a contagious, fatal bird disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Russian war conspiracy theory U.S. birds bioweapons
A Russian conspiracy theory being used to justify the nation's invasion of Ukraine says that the U.S. was helping train birds to spread Ukrainian bioweapons. In this photo, a snowy owl in captivity widens its eyes. Domepitipat/Getty

The RIA Novosti broadcast reportedly included maps, documents and photographs of birds bearing the U.S. coat of arms. Konashenkov said Russian military authorities had also captured some of the infected birds from the so-called Kherson Reserve in eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. did briefly try to train pigeons to guide bombs towards highly specified targets in a World War II-era effort dubbed "Project Pigeon," but the birds were never used on the battlefield and the project was scrapped in 1953, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Konashenkov's claim came on the heels of Russia's baseless claim that the Pentagon has been financing and experimenting with "bat coronavirus" to create biological weapons in Ukraine involving birds, bats and reptiles. The claim revived a years-old Russian conspiracy of U.S.-military germ warfare labs in Ukraine.

A U.S. State Department spokesman called the claim "outright lies" and "total nonsense" adding, "These claims have been debunked conclusively and repeatedly over many years." Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the allegations as "absurd", "laughable" and "propaganda." White House press secretary Jen Psaki also called the claims "preposterous."

Russia could be using the claims to lay the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack of its own which it would then blame on U.S. and Ukrainian forces, CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

However, Psaki said Russia's bioweapons claim is just the latest Russian disinformation attempt to justify its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia previously claimed that it invaded Ukraine because Ukrainian officials were attacking ethnic Russians. Before the invasion, Russian state television aired years-old videos claiming to be proof of new attempted terrorist attacks against ethnic Russians, the Daily Telegraph reported. Russia has also claimed that Ukrainians attacked their own nuclear plants and hospitals to try to frame Russians for war crimes.

China's Foreign Ministry this week echoed Russia's claims of U.S. bioweapons labs, with headlines repeating the claim in the country's state-run China Global Television Network's website and the Chinese Communist Party's Global Times newspaper, the Associated Press reported.

Chinese media have also followed Russia's approach of refusing to refer to the Ukrainian war as a "war" or an "invasion," instead portraying the invasion as a "humanitarian effort" with footage of Russian soldiers allegedly handing out food to Ukrainians in war-torn areas.

Newsweek contacted the White House for comment.