June floods in Crimea, exacerbated by the consequences of the Russian occupiers’ mismanagement, have aggravated the risks of epidemics spreading across the peninsula. And the issue here is not even in the new outbreaks of coronavirus COVID-19 and in the “usual” intestinal diseases, caused by the destruction of sewage systems by the Russian “administration”. After all, Crimea is the place of spread and even the origin of such commonly dangerous diseases as cholera, plague and Crimean-Congo fever [1]. Therefore, it is not surprising that there was such a specific state institution of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine as “Ukrainian Anti-Plague Station”, located at 42 Promyslova Street in Simferopol for many years [2].

However, it should be noted that in Soviet times the work of such institutions was twofold. After all, as is well known, that formally supporting the ban on the manufacture, storage, and testing of bacteriological weapons, the USSR pursued a completely different policy in practice. However, even the ratification in 1975 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction [3] had little effect on the respective sad practice. At the same time, independent Ukraine, far from plans to wage an aggressive war, and even more so from the use of bacteriological weapons, used anti-plague stations exclusively for their intended purpose, to counter possible outbreaks of extremely dangerous natural infections. It is noteworthy that the financing of such work, in particular in the framework of scientific research, was carried out in particular through the Science and Technology Center of Ukraine, (the STCU) established under the Agreement between Ukraine, Canada, USA and Sweden of October 25, 1993 and under its 1997 Protocol [4].

Subsequently, the European Union joined that Agreement, as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Uzbekistan. As part of the STCU’s work, for example, in 2011 the European Union allocated four million euros to Ukraine under contracts 9800 – 9804 “Biosafety and Biosecurity Improvement at the Ukrainian Anti-Plague Station (UAPS) in Simferopol” to improve biosafety, establish a new laboratory and purchase equipment for the UAPS. The STCU’s audit of these funds was conducted by the Riga office of the international audit corporation KPMG just before the attempted annexation of Crimea, and it confirmed that the funds were spent on appropriate tasks [5]. It is noteworthy that Ukraine’s adequate work at the Simferopol-located UAPS was distorted by Russian propaganda, which began to spread fakes about the alleged “American biolaboratory in Simferopol” in the “once active anti-plague station” where “viruses from all over Europe are allegedly transported”, and hat this dangerous object is allegedly located in the “center of the city” [6].

Of course, the real purpose of this hysteria was different and well understandable, because the building on Simperopol’s Promyslova, 42 got not the mythical “European viruses”, but the European and American scientists, who could easily understand, as experts, from the analysis of the preserved Soviet heritage what this object really did up to 1991. It is noteworthy that this was well understood by the long-time head of the UAPS, Professor Oleksander Khaitovich, who at the same time took an active part in the relevant research. But Russian propaganda about “American laboratories” is refuted by a very simple sad fact – by the Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. After all, if in the Ukrainian Anti-Plague Station “something dangerous” really happened before 2014, nothing would prevent the aggressor-State from saying it out loud in the recent seven years, because the object was seized by the invaders without any damage, with all equipment and documentation.

Professor Khaitovich did not leave the Crimea, but instead of holding a “demonstration trial” over him as a “Ukrainian Mengele”, Russia gave him the role of head of the “Crimean Regional Branch of the All-Russian Scientific and Practical Society of Microbiologists and Parasitologists”. The Russian “administration” not only tolerates his professorship in the Russian-controlled “Medical Academy named in honour S.I. Georgievsky” [7] but also “awarded” Mr. Alexander in 2016 for “training of qualified medical personnel and specialists, many years of conscientious work” by the “medal of the Republic of Crimea” “For Valiant Works” [8]. However, it is better to ask Professor Khaitovich whether these “awards” and the status of “Deputy Chairman of the Board” of the “Siberian Fellowship in Crimea” [9] compensated him the opportunity to further interact with the best European epidemiologists and to engage in relevant scientific research. Moreover, Mr. Khaitovich was completely removed by the Russian invaders from the operations of the facilities located on Promyslova, 42 in 2014, and the Ukrainian Anti-Plague Station itself was allegedly “liquidated” by the occupiers under the “Prescript of the Council of Ministers of September 29, 2014 № 998-p” [10].

Of course, the “liquidation” of the station only meant its “return” by the aggressor-State to the tasks that stood before the similar Soviet-controlled facilities before 1991. Not only the profession of people like Dr. Khaitovich is in demand, but also certain, to put it mildly, specific features of the researchers’ morality. Surely not every scientist would agree to perform relevant administration’s tasks. This is confirmed in particular by the person of the new “director” of the “Anti-Plague Station of the Republic of Crimea” Sergei Nikolaevich Tikhonov, who previously worked for many years in not very public “scientific research positions” in Russia’s Saratov and Volgograd anti-plague institutes [11]. We will add, purely for readers’ simplification of understanding, that Sergey’s father, professor Nikolay Tikhonov, headed the same Volgograd institute “Microb” in the Soviet times for a certain period [12] and thus it is difficult to find both the father’s and the son’s publications “on a profile of work” in the open sources. Of course, this does not preclude their publication in “confidentional” Soviet and Russian publications. So, we have the classic dynasty of the Russian military, which is now obviously “working fruitfully” in Crimea on the same “urgent issues” that are so troubling to the aggressor-State and about which one would clearly not write in a European scientific magazine’s publication.

It cannot be said that Ukraine did not react to such a sad situation at all, because at the Eighth Review Conference on the above-mentioned Convention on the Prohibition of Bacteriological Weapons in November 2016 in Geneva, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman Serhii Shutenko stated threats to biosafety due to seizures the UAPS in conditions of the Russian aggression [13]. But the following public statements made by Ukraine’s authorities, or in the expert community’s, did not pay attention to the events at the Simferopol-located “anti-plague station”.

Therefore, we decided to correct this situation a bit, guided purely by the information from open sources. Therefore, such task could be solved without “questioning” such key employees of the aggressor-controlled “station” as Oleksandra Sytnikova, Iryna Kovalenko, Nadiya Pidchenko, Lilia Zinich, Olga Poluektova, Dilyaver Abibulaev and others. At the same time, it can be added that the web-site of the “Anti-Plague Station of the Republic of Crimea”, which operated in 2020, is currently “temporarily suspended” [14] and previously it posted news about the involvement of “station’s” specialists in the fight against coronavirus [15].

At the same time, such anti-Covid work is of course not basic for such institution’s staff and it does not even correspond to the public dimension of their work, which follows from the above-mentioned epidemiologists’ scientific publications (some of them, although clearly not basic, are publicly available). That’s why it’s really hard to believe that the occupiers are “cracking Covid nuts with an anti-plague steam hammer”, and there is evidence that this is not really the case. And these are not satellite images, as in the relevant genre movies, of the Simferopol-located building at Promyslova, 42, by the way, with a new pretty green roof. Of course, the occupiers did not move that “anti-plague station” anywhere from Simferopol and from 2015 they began to invest a powerful resource in its infrastructural development, as it is evidenced by information about “public procurements” of this “anti-plague station”, which we analyzed very carefully [16].

First of all, we selected the costs that relate to the supply of special machinery, reagents and equipment for this institution’s work, and we left “in parentheses” stationery or, for example, a new company car for Mr. Tikhonov. In 2018, we calculated such direct costs for the “development” of the institution by a total of 9,258.2 thousand rubles, in 2019 – by 13,735 thousand rubles, in 2020 – by 36,139 thousand rubles, and for the first half of 2021 the “station” has already spent 19 706.4 thousand rubles for these needs.

It is impossible to explain this increase in costs by the outbreak of coronavirus, because the first increase in purchases by the “station” is observed in 2019 before the incident in Wuhan, China. And secondly, special purchases of the “station”, that directly relate to COVID-19 account, is a small part of all the costs, making only 120 thousand rubles allocated in December 2019 for kits of reagents for polymerase chain reactions and 240 thousand rubles in 2020 for kits of reagents for the detection of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (i.e. 0.33% of the total annual special expenses). It should be added that although some of the station’s purchases were made from traditional suppliers of medical equipment on the peninsula, such as “Yug Service-Bioclub” LLC, founded long before 2014 by Andriy Gerasimenko [17], the rest was supplied by specific companies, including some without information about them in the registers.

But maybe the anti-epidemic situation has deteriorated in the Crimea in 2018-2019? It is very unlikely, because there is no information about it in open sources, and the Analytical Review published in 2019 by the Russia’s Stavropol Anti-Plague Institute provides fairly moderate information about the situation and risks, including on the occupied peninsula. The Russian occupiers then even boasted that the number of cases of serious infectious diseases and their detected vectors had decreased, allegedly due to “active control of ticks in the region and preventive measures taken” [18].

According to this Analytical Review, in 2019 there were no cases of Crimean-Congo fever in Crimea (in the South of the Russia there were 134 cases in the same year, 4 of them were fatal), and only 10 cases of West Nile fever (in the South of the Russia in the same time 310 cases were recorded). Among other things, it is noteworthy that in 2019, three cases of tick-borne encephalitis were detected in the Crimea, but all of them were “imported”, when patients were bitten by ticks in the regions of Russia, but the disease manifested itself during their stay on the peninsula. Moreover, in the natural environment of Crimea, the Simferopol “anti-plague station” did not detect encephalitis, although in the South of the Russia in 2019 such facts were recorded. Other, less dangerous tick-borne infections, such as Marseille fever and borreliosis, have of course been recorded on the peninsula but at the usual level for the region, as acknowledged in the report [18].

Therefore, there were no objective preconditions for increasing the number of purchases of equipment and reagents for the Simferopol “anti-plague station” in 2019 and 2020. But at the same time, open information on procurement shows that the institution is not just a restricted area (more than three million rubles are allocated annually for “guarding the station” by the “Rosguard”) and uses purchased “security systems”, but in 2019 it installed new strong gate and in 2020 it bought barbed wire. This could be explained by the general need to protect such facilities, and the aggressor’s declared maniacal “countering of extremism” on the peninsula, if not for the inconspicuous spending of a kind of “anti-plague station” on “special postal services”. After all, this means, according to the realities of the occupiers, the existence of a regime-secret department and appropriate correspondence by “state couriers”. This is more typical of a military unit than a medical institution, albeit a special one.

However, what was most interesting, are the purchases by the “anti-plague station” of pasteurized milk in industrial volumes from Crimean entrepreneurs. If we consider its more or less constant in 2017-2021 wholesale price for the Crimea at 65 rubles per liter, then in 2018 the “anti-plague station” was purchased two thousand liters (132.8 thousand rubles were spent), in 2019 – 2,4 thousand liters (156.8 thousand rubles were spent) and in 2020 – 4.1 thousand liters (266.8 thousand rubles were spent). It is difficult to say whether it is issued to employees as the “compensation for risks”, and therefore the number of “station” staff is now doubled, or whether milk is used in research institutions as raw materials (and then research “station” is now much more intensive).

However, this increase in milk consumption is definitely not related to coronavirus (such raw materials are clearly not suitable for fighting viruses) or to Crimean ticks (which have not increased in numbers). And of course, during all these purchases, no one could have predicted the new challenges of outbreaks of infectious diseases, caused by the Crimean floods of June 2021. However, it remains to be recalled that, in accordance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, States Parties have undertaken never, under any circumstances, to develop, produce or accumulate, not to purchase in any other way or to store microbiological or other biological agents or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production, such species and in such quantities that are not intended for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.

What should the Ukrainian authorities do in these sad circumstances? At the very least, the issue of the Ukrainian anti-plague station controlled by the aggressor should be raised again on the relevant international platforms. The 1972 Convention provides for Ukraine the right to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council against the Russia’s actions and to demand an appropriate UN investigation. Of course, it is necessary to provide the information on the situation with the “plague station” to the UN and OSCE monitoring missions in Ukraine, as well as to demand from the International Committee of the Red Cross to stop the current disregard for violations of international humanitarian law in the Crimea.

Ukraine should also raise the above-pointed issues at the Ninth Review Conference on the Convention 1972 scheduled for this year, as well as at the Meeting of States Parties of this Convention to be held on 22-25 November 2021 and at the ongoing Experts’ Consultations on the preparation the report for that the Meeting, that will be held from August 30 to September 8, 2021 [19]. Ukraine should also finally raise this issue with the STCU Agreement participants, including Canada, the United States and the European Union, cooperating with Georgia and Moldova on this issue. Of course, Ukraine’s position on international platforms should be strengthened by the relevant investigations, carried out by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies against the above-mentioned participants, which, unfortunately, have not yet been observed.

After all, no one has revoked the liability under Articles 321-2, 325 and 326 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for violating the established procedure for pre-clinical studies, clinical trials and state registration of medicines; for violation of sanitary rules and regulations and for violation of the rules of handling microbiological or other biological agents or toxins. At the same time, it is interesting whether the relevant issues will be mentioned at the “Crimean Platform” events.

Sources:

1. https://apostrophe.ua/ua/news/society/2021-07-11/mozhet-li-stat-krym-rassadnikom-opasnyh-boleznej-v-ukraine-otvet-eksperta/237981

2. https://clarity-project.info/edr/04695832

3. https://www.un.org/ru/documents/decl_conv/conventions/bacweap.shtml

4. https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/998_033

5. http://www.stcu.int/documents/stcu_inf/reports/audit/2013/2013_Management_Letter.pdf

6. https://svpressa.ru/war21/article/220306

7. http://ma.cfuv.ru/site/page/show/docid/127358       

8. https://ru.nagrady.by/persona/75032/

9. https://krym-sibiriaki.ru/view.php?action=masters

10. https://rk.gov.ru/file/pub/pub_233924.pdf

11. https://www.rospotrebnadzor.ru/gosservice/naznashenie/details.php?ELEMENT_ID=3055

12. http://www.sgmu.ru/info/str/depts/genchem/

13. https://mfa.gov.ua/en/news/52248-eighth-bwc-review-conference-takes-place-in-geneva

14. http://www.krimpchs.ru/

15. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8eydVzY9HG8J:https://krimpchs.ru/Structur.php+&cd=18&hl=ru&ct=clnk&gl=ua

16. https://www.list-org.com/company/8124108/contract/44/17707833070910201001

17. https://opendatabot.ua/c/37662283

18. https://www.snipchi.ru/updoc/2020/An-Obzor%20po%20prirodno-oschagovim%202020.pdf

19. https://www.un.org/disarmament/biological-weapons/about/meetings/