Soviet Biological Weapons Program

Soviet Biological Weapons Program

The Soviet Union began a biological weapons program in the 1920s although the Soviet Union was a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Convention, which banned both chemical and biological weapons. During World War II, Joseph Stalin was forced to move his biological weapons (BW) operations out of the path of advancing German forces and may have used tularemia against German troops in 1942 near Stalingrad.

By 1960, numerous BW research facilities existed throughout the Soviet Union. Although the USSR also signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Soviets subsequently augmented their biowarfare programs. Over the course of its history, the Soviet program is known to have weaponized and stockpiled the following bio-agents (and to have pursued basic research on many more):

  • Bacillus anthracis (anthrax)
  • Yersinia pestis (plague)
  • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)
  • Burkholderia mallei (glanders)
  • Brucella spp (brucellosis)
  • Coxiella burnetii (Q-fever)
  • Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE)
  • Botulinum toxin (botulism)
  • Staphylococcal enterotoxin B
  • Smallpox
  • Marburg virus

These programs became immense and were conducted at 52 clandestine sites employing over 50,000 people. Annualized production capacity for weaponized smallpox, for example, was 90 to 100 tons. In the 1980s and 1990s, many of these agents were genetically altered to resist heat, cold, and antibiotics. In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin admitted to an offensive bio-weapons program as well as to the true nature of the Sverdlovsk biological weapons accident of 1979, which had resulted in the deaths of at least 64 people. Defecting Soviet bioweaponeers such as Colonel Kanatjan Alibekov confirmed that the program had been massive and still existed. An agreement was signed with the US and UK promising to end bio-weapons programs and convert BW facilities to benevolent purposes, but compliance with the agreement — and the fate of the former Soviet bio-agents and facilities — is still mostly undocumented.

Read more about Soviet Biological Weapons ProgramList of Soviet/Russian BW Institutions, Programs and Projects, List of Soviet/Russian Bioweaponeers, See Also

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