A certain Jean Finneran (according to the Western press, a modest American pensioner of 71 years of age, resident of the State of New Jersey) has suddenly made a supposition that the recent outbreak of the disease known by the name of rabbit-fever (tularemia) in a number of Russian regions may have been caused by a "leakage" (accidental or intentional) of biological weapons. The pensioner posted this information in his Internet diary on August 25.
Tularemia is a contagious disease characterized by the inflammation of the lymphatic glands, fever, symptoms of the general intoxication and a tendency to have a protracted course of development. It is one of the diseases a man may contract from animals, mainly various rodents.
Mr. Finneran, demonstrating uncommon familiarity with Russian realities and enviable breadth of information, claims that 96 cases of human tularemia have been registered in the Nizhni Novgorod Region, 66 of these in the town of Dzerzhinsk where a number of chemical plants are located, some of them allegedly catering to the defense industry. According to the inquisitive pensioner, another 56 cases of tularemia have been registered in the areas of the Riazan Region bordering on Nizhni Novgorod and Vladimir.
The main factor that characterizes the outbreaks of tularemia in Russia, in Finneran's view, is the presence in the region of "the facilities for waging biological warfare, especially in the area of Nizhni Novgorod". Among the facilities located in the Nizhni Novgorod Region the pensioner-investigator marks out the laboratory in Chapayevsk, describing it as an "inactive structure meant to destroy biological weapons".
However, Chapayevsk is known to be situated in the Samara Region, the plant there is active and destroys chemical, not biological weapons. Incidentally, Finneran himself indirectly confirms this fact by saying that "in the town of Dzerzhinsk of the Nizhni Novgorod Region the structure is used to produce chemical weapons, in particular lewisite".
Despite the muddle with biological and chemical weapons, the gross mistakes in the boundaries of Russian Regions and the activities of the industrial enterprises located there, Finneran's allegations have been quickly taken up by a whole number of American Internet sites and other media. In particular, the revelations of the obscure New Jersey pensioner about the outbreak of tularemia in Russia have been circulated by the well-known English-language portal phxnews.com. And already on August 26 this information, citing phxnews, appeared in some Russian media.
Commentaries made in this connection in the US press presume that "Russia is still conducting research in biological weapons, including tularemia, with which it has already been experimenting for three generations". In view of some US experts, who corroborate Finneran's allegations, the leakage of the poisonous agent could possibly have taken place from the depositories of biological weapons allegedly located near the boundary of the Riazan Region, in the small town of Gorokhovets of the Vladimir Region.
Naturally, the 1979 incident in Sverdlovsk has been brought to light, where, according to Western intelligence sources, a leakage of biological weapons had taken place. As a result, dozens of people had died from a disease similar to anthrax. Officially the USSR had not acknowledged the leakage, stating that the people had died because of the infected meat brought from the Cheliabinsk Region.
Commenting on the American accusations, officials of the Russian Directorate for Convention Problems of Chemical and Biological Weapons attached to the Russian Ammunition Agency, called hearsay the allegations that the reason for the outbreak of tularemia may have been a leakage of chemical weapons. First, lewisite has a quite different destructive action. And secondly, tularemia is a natural nidal infection, and its occurrence is typical of summer time when the number of rodents goes up in nature.
For its turn, the Nizhni Novgorod Branch of the Rospotrebnadzor (Consumer Products Regulating Authority) refuted the information that the outbreak of tularemia in the region is caused by a leakage of biological weapons. In a statement made in this connection it points out that "there are no laboratories, research centers, or plants manufacturing any preparations for this disease on the territory of the region and adjacent areas".
Specialists of the regional Rospotrebnadzor believe that the outbreak of tularemia is connected with many people leaving in summer for their country houses (dachas) in the Gorokhovets District of the Vladimir Region where, according to their data, there is an active natural pesthole of tularemia. According to the leading research worker of the Department of Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction of the Institute of World Economics and International Relations attached to the Russian Academy of Sciences, Natalia Kalinina, development of biological weapons has long been ceased in Russia.
N. Kalinina called hearsay the allegations posted on some American web sites that the outbreaks of tularemia in certain regions of Russia might be connected with the activities of some secret Russian bio-laboratories. Noting that already in 1992 the Russian President signed a decree forbidding all work associated with specially dangerous pathogens listed as biological weapons, she reminded that, to top it all, Russia had signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons.
As she said, "the recent cases of tularemia have a natural origin, and outbreaks of this disease, varying in intensity, have been periodically registered each year in a number of regions, especially the southern ones". N. Kalinina reminded also that this information is open to anybody and can be found in the annual reports on disease statistics of the Russian Health Ministry.
Considering all this, the revelations or, to put it more precisely, fairy-tales of "grandpa" Finneran about Russia conducting some secret experiments with biological weapons look like some crude propaganda stunt aimed obviously at distracting public attention from the not very lofty activities of the USA itself in the field of the development of new types of weapons of mass destruction.