Russia planned to use monkeypox as bioweapon, a former Soviet expert claims

A former Soviet bioweapons expert has claimed that Russia explored using monkeypox as a bio-weapon until at least the early 1990s.

Colonel Kanat Alibekov – AKA Kenneth Alibek — claimed in recently resurfaced interviews that the USSR had a programme thats sole aim was to determine what viruses could be weaponised.

Alibek was deputy chief of the USSR’s biological weapons programme until its collapse in 1991.

He said: "So we developed a special program to determine what “model” viruses could be used instead of human smallpox.

"We tested vaccinia virus, mousepox virus, rabbitpox virus, and monkeypox virus as models for smallpox.

"The idea was that all research and development work would be conducted using these model viruses. Once we obtained a set of positive results, it would take just two weeks to conduct the same manipulations with smallpox virus and to stockpile the warfare agent.

"We would have in our arsenal a genetically altered smallpox virus that could replace the previous one."

The eradication of smallpox through global vaccine programmes forced the Soviets to ditch the idea.

He said in a 1998 interview that stray cases caused by an accidental leak in Russia would now be "difficult to explain to the international community."

Russian Ministry of Defence decided to continue working with monkeypox to "create future biological weapons" after the end of the USSR, Dr Alibek added.

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The same year, he was brought before a United States Congress hearing, where he said he was "convinced that Russia’s biological weapons program has not been completely dismantled".

A former United Nations weapons inspector corroborated Alibek's claims, saying that it is still a "real fear" that monkeypox could be engineered as a bioweapon.

Another unidentified former UN weapons inspector was quoted in the report as saying: "There’s no confirmation that (monkeypox) leaked out, but the potential exists".

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which can be caught from infected wild animals in parts of West and Central Africa.

It can spread between humans via both droplet respiration or an infected person's bodily fluids.

There are now 20 cases in the UK, health secretary Sajid Javid revealed on Friday (May 20).

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