: Биопрепарат, English: "Biological substance preparation") was the Soviet Union
's major biological warfare
agency. It was a vast network of secret laboratories, each focused on a different deadly agent. Its 30,000 employees researched and to produced pathogenic weapons
for use in a major war.
Biopreparat was established in 1973
as a "civilian" continuation of earlier Soviet bio-warfare programs (see Soviet program of biological weapons
). The project was reportedly initiated by academician Yuri Ovchinnikov
who convinced General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev
that development of biological weapons was necessary . The research at Biopreparat constituted a blatant violation by the Soviet Union of the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention
of 1972 which outlawed biological weapons. Its existence was steadfastly denied by Soviet officialdom for decades.
Exposure of Biopreparat in the West
In April 1979, a major outbreak of pulmonary anthrax
in the city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg
) caused the deaths of 68 of Soviet citizens. The Soviets tried to hush things up, but details leaked out to the West in 1980 when the German magazine Bild Zeitung
carried a story about the accident. Moscow described allegations that the epidemic was an accident at a BW facility as "slanderous propaganda" and insisted the anthrax outbreak had been caused by contaminated food. (See Sverdlovsk anthrax leak
The first senior Soviet bioweaponeer to defect to the West was Vladimir Pasechnik (1937-2001) who alerted Western intelligence in 1989 to the vast scope of Moscow's clandestine program. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President George H. W. Bush put pressure on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to open up Russia's germ warfare facilities to a team of outside inspectors. When the inspectors toured four of the sites in 1991, they were met with denials and evasions. Production tanks which had obviously been intended for making enormous quantities of something were clean and sterile; laboratories had been stripped of equipment.
Pasechnik's revelations that the program was 10 times greater than previously suspected were confirmed in 1992 with the defection to the United States of Colonel Kanatjan Alibekov (b. 1950), the No. 2 scientist for the program. Alibekov (now known as Ken Alibek) had been the First Deputy Director of Biopreparat from 1988 to 1992. He claimed that development of new strains of genetically-engineered superweapons was still continuing.
Alibek later wrote the book Biohazard (1999) detailing publicly his extensive inside knowledge of the structure, goals, operations and achievements of Biopreparat. He was also featured in the October 13, 1998 episode of Frontline (PBS TV series).
The Biopreparat complex suffered with the collapse of the Soviet Union
. Since then several large bioweapons production lines have been officially closed. Its current state is unknown, however it is likely that Biopreparat and successor entities continued bioweapons research and development at least through the 1990s.
Biopreparat was a system of 18, nominally civilian, research laboratories and centers scattered chiefly around European Russia
, in which a small army of scientists and technicians developed biological weapons such as anthrax
, Marburg virus
, Q fever
. It was the largest producer of weaponized anthrax in the Soviet Union and was a leader in the development of new bioweapons technologies.
The project had 18 major labs and production centers:
- Stepnagorsk Scientific and Technical Institute for Microbiology, Stepnogorsk, northern Kazakhstan
- Institute of Ultra Pure Biochemical Preparations, Leningrad, a weaponized plague center
- Vector State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR), a weaponized smallpox center
- Institute of Applied Biochemistry, Omutninsk
- Kirov bioweapons production facility, Kirov, Kirov Oblast
- Zagorsk smallpox production facility, Zagorsk
- Berdsk bioweapons production facility, Berdsk
- Sverdlovsk bioweapons production facility (Military Compound 19), Sverdlovsk, a weaponized anthrax center
Pathogens that were successfully weaponized by the organization included (in order of completion):
Annual production capacities for many of the above listed pathogens were in the tens of tons, typically with redundant production facilities located throughout the Soviet Union.