From March 9, 2022 Russian media outlets have been actively reporting about US-funded biological laboratories created in Ukraine, stressing that such facilities are also operating in other post-Soviet countries, particularly in Armenia.
In 2018-2020, this issue was indeed a subject of discussion in bilateral relations, but the reports do not mention that the parties signed a memorandum, effectively closing the topic.
1. What did Lavrov say?
On December 17, 2018 Russian media outlets cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov:
“We have almost finished preparing an agreement with Armenia that would rule out presence of foreign troops in these biological laboratories.”
2. What was Yerevan’s response?
On the same day – December 17, 2018 – Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan said:
“The context of that remark clarifies that Mr. Lavrov is speaking about biological labs. Cooperation in sanitary and epidemics control sector is a part of our bilateral agenda. Armenia is upholding all its international commitments aimed at peaceful conduct of bacteriological researches.”
Three days later, on December 20, 2018, Anna Naghdalyan stated that biological laboratories operating in Armenia are of civilian nature.
“Sanitary and epidemics control sector is a part of our Armenian-Russian bilateral agenda. We conduct dialogues on this matter, but those labs belong to Armenia, and Armenian specialists work there. There will be no chance of military presence at the labs,” Anna Naghdalyan told journalists.
3. How did Pashinyan comment on the statements of Karasin and Lavrov?
On December 19, 2018 Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded to the remarks by State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin, who said he hoped that the new Armenian authorities could “find courage to resist the blackmail and pressure of the United States.”
“I will definitely use this occasion to clarify with our Russian partners the basis of their information. Armenia conducts independent policy and will continue to do so,” Pashinyan told the reporters.
He also referred to the statement of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Yerevan and Moscow have drafted an agreement preventing the presence of foreign military personnel in biological laboratories in Armenia.
“The former Armenian authorities discussed that agreement with Russia, but the government I head has never had talks about this with Russia. We have to ask Mr. Lavrov for a more detailed explanation,” Pashinyan had said.
4. What were the parties telling about the memorandum?
On November 11, 2019, Sergey Lavrov stated in Yerevan that the memorandum of cooperation in biosafety between Russia and Armenia was ready for signing.
It was noted that under the memorandum, Russian experts are granted access to biological laboratories in Armenia, which were created with funding from the U.S.
“The memorandum is currently undergoing coordination by relevant agencies on both sides,” Lavrov said at the joint press conference with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
Photo: Armenian MFA
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan added that it is too early to talk about processes implied in the memorandum “but the document can help consolidate Armenia’s potential in biosafety in cooperation with Russia.”
Almost half a year later, on April 30, 2020, spokesperson of Armenian MFA Anna Naghdalyan said:
“The biological laboratories operating in the Republic of Armenia belong to Armenia and are fully controlled by the state structures of the Republic of Armenia. The Armenian side has repeatedly stated that the staff of the laboratories consists only of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia, the presence of foreign specialists in the territory of the laboratories is excluded.”
The “Memorandum of Understanding on Ensuring Biological Safety” between Armenia and Russia is neither about issues related to biological laboratories in Armenia, nor the right of access of Russian specialists. As we have noted on numerous occasions, that document addresses a wide range of issues related to ensuring biological safety. The current draft of the Memorandum does not envisage the right to access to the working areas of laboratories for any side or exercise any other unilateral control”.
5. Was the memorandum finally signed?
Yes, but only on May 6, 2021.
On that day, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ara Aivazian and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov signed a Memorandum of Understanding on ensuring biological safety between the Republic of Armenia and the Russian Federation.
Photo: Armenian MFA
The memorandum envisages cooperation mechanisms, information exchange, organization of training courses for specialists.
Sputnik reported that the memorandum does not envisage the right to access the working areas of laboratories for any side or to exercise any other unilateral control.