biological shield

Soviet program of biological weapons


1928 - Revolutionary Military Council signed a decree about weaponization of typhus. Leningrad Military academy began cultivation of typhus in chicken embryos. Human experimentation with typhus, glanders and melioidosis in Solovetsky camp. A laboratory on vaccine and serum research was also established near Moscow in 1928, within Military Chemical Agency. This laboratory was transformed to Red Army's Scientific Research Institute of Microbiology in 1933.

1941: Soviet bioweapons facilities are evacuated to the city of Kirov.

1942: Alleged use of tularemia against German troops.

1945: Japanese documentation from Unit 731 was captured.

1946: A biological weapons facility was established in Sverdlovsk.

1953: Fifteenth directorate of Red Army takes responsibility for the program.

1973: A "civilian" main directorate Biopreparat was founded. Other organizations involved in design and production of biological weapons were Soviet Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, USSR Academy of Sciences, and KGB.

1990s: specimens of deadly bacteria and viruses were stolen from Western laboratories and delivered by Aeroflot planes to support Russian program of biological weapons. At least one of the pilots was a Russian Foreign Intelligence Service officer" . At least two agents died, presumably from the transported pathogens

Beginning of 2000s: Academician "A.S." proposed new biological warfare program "Biological Shield of Russia" to president Vladimir Putin. The program reportedly includes institutes of Russian Academy of Sciences from Pushchino

Military use during World War II

Tularemia was allegedly used against German troops in 1942 near Stalingrad. Around 10,000 cases of tularemia had been reported in the Soviet Union during the years of 1941 and 1943. However, the number of cases jumped to more than 100,000 in the year of Stalingrad outbreak. German panzer troops fell ill in such significant numbers during the late summer of 1942 that German military campaign came to a temporary halt. German soldiers became ill with the rare pulmonary form of tularemia, which indicate the use of an aerosol biological weapon (the ordinary transmission pathway is through ticks and rodents). According to Kenneth Alibek the used tularemia weapon had been developed in the Kirov military facility . It was suggested, however, that the outbreak might be of natural origin, since a pulmonary form of tularemia has also been detected during an outbreak in Martha's Vineyard in 2000

Developments after signing the Biological Weapons Convention

Soviet Union continued development and mass production of offensive biological weapons, despite having signed the Biological Weapons Convention. The development and production was conducted by main directorate "Biopreparat", Soviet Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, USSR Academy of Sciences, the KGB, and other state organizations . In 1980s Soviet Ministry of Agriculture had successfully developed variants of foot-and-mouth disease and rinderpest against cows, African swine fever for pigs, and psittacosis to kill chicken. These agents were prepared to spray them down from tanks attached to airplanes over hundreds of miles. The secret program was code-named "Ecology".

Notable outbreaks and accidents

Marburg virus

The Soviet Union reportedly had a large biological weapons program involving Marburg virus. The development was conducted in Vector Institute under leadership of Dr. Ustinov who accidentally died from the virus. The samples of Marburg taken from Ustinov's organs were more powerful than the original strain. New strain called "Variant U" had been successfully weaponized and approved by Soviet Ministry of Defense in 1990.


The first smallpox weapons factory in the Soviet Union was established in 1947 in the city of Zagorsk, close to Moscow . It was produced by injecting small amounts of the virus into chicken eggs. An especially virulent strain (codenamed India-1967 or India-1) was brought from India in 1967 by a special Soviet medical team that was sent to India to help to eradicate the virus. The pathogen was manufactured and stockpiled in large quantities throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

An outbreak of weaponized smallpox occurred during its testing in the 1970s. General Prof. Peter Burgasov, former Chief Sanitary Physician of the Soviet Army, and a senior researcher within the program of biological weapons described this incident:

“On Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea, the strongest recipes of smallpox were tested. Suddenly I was informed that there were mysterious cases of mortalities in Aralsk. A research ship of the Aral fleet came 15 km away from the island (it was forbidden to come any closer than 40 km). The lab technician of this ship took samples of plankton twice a day from the top deck. The smallpox formulation— 400 gr. of which was exploded on the island—”got her” and she became infected. After returning home to Aralsk, she infected several people including children. All of them died. I suspected the reason for this and called the Chief of General Staff of Ministry of Defense and requested to forbid the stop of the Alma-Ata to Moscow train in Aralsk. As a result, the epidemic around the country was prevented. I called Andropov, who at that time was Chief of KGB, and informed him of the exclusive recipe of smallpox obtained on Vozrozhdeniya Island.”

A production line to manufacture smallpox on an industrial scale was launched in the Vector Institute in 1990. The development of genetically altered strains of smallpox was presumably conducted in the Institute under leadership of Dr. Sergei Netyosov in the middle of the 1990s, according to Kenneth Alibek

It was reported that Russia made smallpox available to Iraq in the beginning of 1990s.


Spores of weaponized anthrax were accidentally released from a military facility near the city of Sverdlovsk in 1979. The death toll was at least 105, but no one knows the exact number, because all hospital records and other evidence were destroyed by the KGB, according to former Biopreparat deputy director Kenneth Alibek .



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