BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan, a longtime ally of Russia, earlier this month refused a proposal by Moscow to build a lab to study infectious agents or toxins in its territory.
Russia proposed the establishment of a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory on Kyrgyz soil during the 23rd meeting of the Intergovernmental Kyrgyz-Russian Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Humanitarian Co-operation, which took place April 14 in Moscow.
"The Kyrgyz Republic opposed the implementation of this project," the Kyrgyz Health Ministry said in an April 19 statement.
BSL-3 laboratories are used to study infectious agents or toxins that may be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infections, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Microbes studied at BSL-3 labs include those that cause tuberculosis, West Nile fever and yellow fever, among others.
Level 4 labs -- the highest level -- are for the deadliest, least treatable viruses, like Ebola and Marburg.
Russia for many years has fiercely criticised Western efforts to set up biological laboratories in Central Asia.
The Kremlin's propaganda arms have accused such labs -- without evidence -- of developing secret biological weapons and endangering the lives and health of local residents.
'The public simply won't allow it'
Kyrgyzstan already has declined other countries' proposals to build such labs on its territory.
In 2008, it declined to work on such a lab with Canada and, facing considerable public pressure, rejected a similar Chinese initiative in 2016.
Kyrgyz citizens were shocked to hear of the recent proposal.
"There will never be a Russian biological laboratory in our country," said Osmon Kangeldiyev, a Bishkek resident and a member of the Reform Party.
Kangeldiyev considers co-operation with Russia on such a project a very dangerous prospect, given events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine that indicate Russian President Vladimir Putin's propensity for military aggression.
"The public simply won't allow it," Kangeldiyev said of the proposed lab.
"After all this, Russia invites Kyrgyzstan to build a Russian biological laboratory," he said, referring to the Kyrgyz rejection of Canadian and Chinese lab proposals.
"Media outlets report that Putin could use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if he is losing the war," he said. "I see no reason why he wouldn't develop biological weapons in a foreign country."
The purpose of the proposed lab was vague, noted Baktygul Stakeyeva, an environmental engineer with the Bishkek-based MoveGreen youth environmental movement.
"Considering the current situation in which Russia is the aggressor, I think our country did the right thing," said Stakeyeva, referring to the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin has spent years hypocritically denouncing the Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty, Kazakhstan, which is owned by the M. Alkimbayev Kazakh Scientific Centre for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases under the Kazakh Ministry of Health.
Russian media have falsely claimed the lab is "American" and threatens Russia's national security.
In June 2019, Vladimir Solovyov, a top Kremlin propagandist and a host on state-owned TV channel Russia-1, proposed on air a preemptive strike against the laboratory in Almaty, a city with a population of two million.
The lab does not belong to the United States and its purpose is exclusively scientific -- to study dangerous pathogens and ways to protect against them, Kazakh officials have explained.
The United States provided only financial support for the laboratory's construction.
However, the Russian media have continued to spread disinformation about the institution, alleging that US scientists with diplomatic immunity work there and are creating biological weapons.
At present, the main target of Kremlin propaganda is Ukrainian biolabs, which Russian media depict as a Pentagon platform for developing "pathogenic microorganisms that threaten all of humanity".
The Kremlin's rhetoric nonetheless indicates that Kazakhstan should not feel at ease.
"We consider such activity [biolab activity]... to be absolutely unacceptable both in Ukraine and in the other countries that surround us," said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, on April 12, invoking the Kremlin's baseless accusations of US-Ukrainian biowarfare co-operation.
After the Ukraine war ends, this [Russian] "position will be emphatically communicated to Kazakhstan. Of course, in what form is not clear", predicted Ruslan Nazarov of Nur-Sultan, an international relations analyst.
Nazarov expressed alarm that Russia, which regards biolabs only as a base for creating biological weapons, proposed a biolab initiative to Kyrgyzstan.
"Does Moscow want to create its own weapons?" asked Nazarov.