Highlights

  • Decoding Russia's allegation of bird bio-weapon plot by USA
  • Russia claimed US training birds to spread diseases in Russia
  • During World War II, US tried to train pigeons to guide missiles

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Doom Tech | Why Putin is scared of birds; USA's pigeon-guided missile project: bio-weapon claim decoded

Russia has claimed that the American military was training migratory birds in Ukraine as bio-weapon carriers, and the birds were being trained to fly to Russia and spread diseases.

In a war with tanks, missiles, fighter jets, and guns, Russia is scared of birds.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has sparked many conspiracy theories. But this is one which has been propagated by the highest levels of the Russian government.

In a bewildering statement after the war broke out, Moscow claimed that the American military was training migratory birds as bio-weapon carriers in Ukraine. The birds were being trained to fly to Russia and spread diseases.

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The Russian defence ministry claimed that some infected birds had been caught from the Kherson Reserve. Moscow also said that US was researching the use of bats and reptiles as bio-weapon carriers. Russia called this a biological danger to people all across Europe.

What exactly are bio-weapons? The United Nations defines bio-weapons as arms which disseminate disease-causing germs or toxins. Their aim is to harm or kill humans, animals, or plants. These weapons are not restricted by political borders, and so can cause huge damage. Bio-weapons can lead to food shortages, environmental disasters, and even economic crises.

Russia has even named multiple diseases that US allegedly wants to use as weapons. These include a variant of H5N1, or bird flu, which can easily spread among humans. Moscow claimed that the strain developed by USA has a mortality rate of 50%. The second is Newcastle disease which is a contagious, fatal bird illness that affects the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems. The third is the dreaded anthrax. It's a serious illness which affects livestock and wild game, and can infect humans through direct or indirect contact. Another is the African swine fever which is a contagious and deadly disease affecting pigs, but cannot be transmitted to humans.

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Western media has claimed that documents produced by Russia in support of the conspiracy theory are not convincing, and do not contain any proof.

But, Russia's bird bio-weapon allegation could have been inspired by an actual American experiment dating back to World War II. In the 1940s, missile accuracy was low, and computers were too bulky to be used on projectiles. But US psychologist and inventor BF Skinner had a unique idea - to use pigeons as pilots for missiles.

Skinner built a contraption with pigeon cockpits which would sit in the nose of the missile. There were 3 cockpits with 3 electronic screens, and the pigeons were trained to identify and peck at the target appearing on the screen. There were cables attached to the pigeons' heads and these steered the missile towards the target. Skinner successfully demonstrated the pigeon-guided missile idea, but a sceptical defence research committee terminated the project.

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While question marks remain on Russia's claims, it does not mean that bio-weapons are not very real threats.

Some dangerous incidents took place during World War II when Germany tried to spread plague in St Petersburg, Russia, and Japan dropped fleas carrying bubonic plague on Ningbo, China.

In 1984, followers of cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh spread salmonella bacteria in the US town of The Dalles, and over 700 people fell ill. Between 1990 and 1995, the AUM Shinrikyo cult in Japan attempts attacks using anthrax and botulinum toxin. In the 2001, the US had a big anthrax scare when its spores were spread using the postal system. Over 20 people were infected, and 5 died.

Due to the massive threat posed by biological weapons, an international treaty was signed through the United Nations platform.

The UN Convention prohibits development, production, and acquisition of bio-weapons. It also prohibits the transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons. The convention mandates the destruction of existing bio-weapons or their diversion to peaceful aims. It has nearly global approval with 184 State Parties, and 4 Signatory States. The convention entered into force in 1975, supplementing the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

But the treaty has not been enough for enemy nations to trust each other to not use bio-weapons.

Russia has often raised allegations of biological weapon conspiracies against America. In 2018, Moscow claimed that Washington had conducted secret bio-weapon tests in Georgia which had killed over 70 people. Russia has also accused USA and Ukraine of developing ethnically-targeted diseases which would affect Russians and other Slavs. Putin's government has also alleged that there are at least 30 America-supported labs in Ukraine which work on dangerous pathogens.

On Russia's bird bio-weapon allegation, America has said that it is absurd and laughable propaganda. Instead, Russia is probably planning a bio-attack of its own, and will blame USA and Ukraine later, Washington has claimed. USA has also clarified that it helps Ukrainian labs under the Bio Threat Reduction Program, and also helps Kyiv improve public health labs.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that an infectious disease can wreak havoc across the entire globe, irrespective of where it first began spreading. In such a situation, it might be time for the United Nations to make enforcement of the ban on bio-weapons stricter with greater scrutiny and penalties.

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