Army officer Tulsi Gabbard faces anger for peddling Russian misinformation about Ukraine Biolabs

Former U.S. Representative and current Army Reserve officer Tulsi Gabbard, known for her controversial positions that have often supported Russian interests, was accused on Sunday of uttering a “treacherous lie” by Senator Mitt Romney, R -Utah, after his latest social media video promoted a debunked theory about biolabs in Ukraine.

In the video, which was posted to Gabbard’s TikTok and other social media accounts, the former congresswoman misinterpreted US support for several dozen former Soviet biolabs in Ukraine, falsely implying that labs work with diseases like COVID-19 and that the Biden administration had been “trying to cover this up.”

The claim is a variant of a Russian misinformation claim about US support for labs that dates back to at least 2014according to EUvsDisinfo, a monitoring group which advises the European Union and its members on disinformation.

Read more : Russia’s False Biolab Ukraine Claims Challenge Pentagon, Trigger Biden’s Warning

Unproven claims that the United States is helping Ukraine create new biological weapons were denied by various federal officials in the White House and the Pentagon last week. Two key points the Pentagon noted in a fact sheet released on Friday were that “after Russia launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health responsibly ordered the safe and secure samples”.

Defense officials have observed that the claim could be a pretext for Russian leader Vladimir Putin to increase attacks on civilian populations in Ukraine, even potentially unleashing his own biological or chemical weapons.

In the Pentagon’s fact sheet, the agency said Ukraine’s efforts to destroy samples at Soviet-era facilities help “limit the danger of accidental release of pathogens if the Russian military laboratories are attacking”.

The fact sheet also states that “unlike Russia, the United States and Ukraine do not develop biological weapons and fully comply with the Biological Weapons Convention.” This refusal was picked up by White House press secretary Jen Paski March 9.

Romney, in a tweet sunday afternoonsaid the video “represented Russian propaganda” and that “Gabbard’s treacherous lies could well cost lives”.

Two of Gabbard’s recent social media posts with political themes were shot with her wearing her army uniform. In one, made in December 2021, she noted that she was “finishing my reserve duty here at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.”

Gabbard is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, serving as the Civil Affairs Officer currently assigned to 1st Special Forces Command. This unit oversees all Army Special Forces – commonly referred to as the Green Berets, as well as units that conduct psychological operations, civil affairs and support roles.

Maj. Dan Lessard, a spokesperson for the unit, said “comments by Tulsi Gabbard made in his civilian capacity represent his views and not those of 1st Special Forces Command” in an email to Military.com Monday – the same statement he released last week. He noted that the statement was not changed by Sunday’s broadcast of the video.

“Our command has already addressed the video that Lt. Col. Gabbard made in uniform on December 8, 2021,” he added.

The Army’s stance on those remarks — at least the ones Gabbard made uniform — is surprisingly mild given the examples of other officers using videos of themselves in uniform for political gain.

Amid the pullout from Afghanistan, Marine Lt. Col. Stu Scheller made a series of videos in which he chastised top military leaders for the results of the war and called out a culture he said was incapable of standing up. responsible.

Scheller was removed from his post after his first video, sent to the brig and court-martialed before being fired.

Former Army officer Harold Earls, who served just under six years, has been investigated for abusing his position after his political ads in a run for the 6th District Georgia Congress presented a video he made while on active duty. Reported task and goal about another serving army reserve officer, who was investigated after appearing on far-right TV channel OANN in the middle of a campaign.

Other army politicians have received warnings for appearing in political posts in uniform.

Sunday’s video is not the first time that Gabbard, a former congressional representative for Hawaii and former presidential candidate, has been accused of trafficking Russian talking points.

Gabbard met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017 amid a brutal and bloody civil war and shortly after the Battle of Aleppo – a fight that has been the subject of numerous war crimes allegations, including the use of chemical weapons by Syrian and Russian forces.

At the time, she told CNN that “whatever you think of President Assad, the fact is he is the president of Syria” and that he was essential to ensuring peace in the country. She also said she was skeptical of allegations that he used chemical weapons, despite conclusions of a UN group mandated by the Security Council. Gabbard would continue to stay true to this meeting and its comments for years, at one point saying that “Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States” on MSNBC in 2019.

Assad recently announced he supports President Putin and Russia in their invasion of Ukraine.

Although she later backed off some of its support for Assad amid a run for president in the 2020 campaign on the Democratic ticket, his use of Russian talking points led to a major attack on her by candidate Hillary Clinton. Several Americans the media also noted that Gabbard’s campaign and debate performance was elevated by Russia-aligned media and social media users.

More recently, Gabbard has made frequent appearances on Tucker Carlson’s show – himself accused of being comfortable with Kremlin talking points, according to Mother Jones – to say that Putin’s troop build-up near Ukraine was justified because of the country’s desire to join NATO. ‘It’s a legitimate security concern for Russia,’ Gabbard said in an appearance posted to his TikTok account before accusing the Biden administration of ‘smearing’ those who disagree with the position. of the US government as “traitors”.

Gabbard also posted a video in which she claimed “Ukraine is not really a democracy” and accused Ukrainian President Vladmir Zelenskyy of silencing political opponents.

Gabbard’s repetition of pro-Russia talking points is easy to spot, but many, including experts in the field of disinformation, are quick to note that proving a relationship is much harder.

Raphael Cohena senior political scientist at the Rand think tank, noted in his interview with Military.com last week that “you can’t always point to a direct counterpart.”

“It gets very murky very quickly,” he added.

Cohen noted that politicians on both sides of the aisle — especially those looking to portray themselves as outsiders — are often drawn into different aspects of Russian talking points by “a misplaced idea that you can be a politician not -conformist”.

“There is a fine line between being a maverick and simply being a tool of an evil regime,” Cohen warned.

— Konstantin Toropin can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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