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Wed Jan 12, 2022, 08:00 AM

Kazakhstan becomes toxic graveyard for US diplomacy

As political winds shift, a US-funded biosecurity lab in Almaty could become a major embarrassment for Washington


The US-Kazakh partnership in this field dates back to 2003. Kazakhstan has been an interesting “hotspot” for infectious disease occurrence and surveillance in part because of its history, geography and its diversity of host species. Kazakhstan has maintained infrastructure and a tiered network for infectious disease surveillance since the time of the czars.

The US-funded research projects centered on studies involving select agents including zoonoses: anthrax, plague, tularemia, highly pathogenic avian influenza, brucellosis, etc. These projects funded researchers in Kazakhstan, while project collaborators in the US and UK mentored and guided these researchers to develop and test their hypotheses.

The unassumingly named Central Reference Laboratory (CRL) in Almaty figuring in the Tass report was originally planned in 2013, with the US investing US$102 million in a biosecurity lab to study some of the most deadly pathogens that could potentially be used in bioterrorism attacks.

Rather than locating the new facility in some obscure tract of land in Nevada, the Pentagon deliberately chose a site near Almaty to store securely and study the highest-risk diseases such as plague, anthrax and cholera.

The rationale was that the lab would provide gainful employment to talented Kazakh researchers and get them off the streets, so to speak – that is, discourage them from selling their scientific expertise and services to terrorist groups who may have use for biological weapons.


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