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Russia Threatens Georgian Trade Over U.S. Biolab

Russia's top public health official on Saturday said his country could limit trade relations with neighboring Georgia for hosting a U.S. biological research site wielding "powerful offensive potential," Interfax reported.

“Russia deems it to be a direct violation of BWC (Biological Weapons Convention)," Gennady Onishchenko told the news agency. He was referring to the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research, according to Civil Georgia.

"With the enlargement of contacts and supplies of wine products, vegetables, and other agricultural products to Russia, our alarm at the presence of a powerful U.S. Navy biological laboratory in Georgia not controlled by Georgian authorities will be increasing," Interfax quoted him as saying. "Food products are the most efficient way for hazardous substances to enter a human organism, which could be used deliberately with the purposes of causing damage to health."

Onishchenko previously accused Georgia of unleashing a bout of African swine fever on Russia in an agricultural assault.

A top Georgian medical official on Saturday called the concerns about the laboratory "a complete absurdity," Interfax reported separately.

"It's a top standard research lab that works in numerous fields and has highly proficient specialists from various countries working in them," Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of Georgia's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health.

Gamkrelidze said Russian personnel had "examined the lab and were satisfied with its activities."

"That lab isn't developing any biological weapons, it isn't pursuing any secret activities," he said. "Let me repeat: any expert, specialist, researcher may come and make sure of this personally."

Washington's envoy to Georgia in May said Georgian officials were assuming management of the facility, Civil Georgia reported.

On Friday, Russia disputed a U.S. State Department analysis casting doubt on its full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention in 2012.

"No proof, as always," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in released remarks.

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