In Offhand Remark, Putin Says Someone Is Harvesting Russians’ Biological Material

(GVO) – Vladimir Putin has had his share of choice quotes, some of which have inspired a “Who Said It?” quiz challenging readers to distinguish between his real quotes and those of the patriarch of the “Game of Thrones” Lannister family, Tywin Lannister.

At a meeting of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights on October 30, President Putin had ample opportunity to provide more material for people to scrutinize as he fielded questions on a variety of topics, from current events like the knife attack on journalist Tatyana Felgengauer and corruption cases, to Stalin-era repression.

His tangentially related response to a seemingly innocuous question, however, has raised eyebrows across the RuNet.

The question came from Igor Borisov, the director of the “Russian Social Institute for Electoral Rights”, who in lengthy commentary described the problem of poll station observers taking pictures of voters as they entered to cast their votes. After describing his view of the problem, he finally got to his question:

Для чего такое количество интересантов смотрит наши выборы и проводит видеозапись фактически образа человека и как он дальше будет использоваться с учётом тех технологий, которые сегодня существуют? То есть лично я озабочен тем, что образы моих сограждан оказываются в чужих руках, и непонятно, как и для каких целей они там будут находиться.

Why are so many self-interested people watching our elections and recording video with actual images of people, and how will this further be used, considering the technology that exists today? That is, I personally am worried that the images of my fellow citizens are ending up in the hands of strangers, and it’s not clear how and for what purpose.

By way of response, Putin promised to look into the results of Borisov’s investigations, adding that he would look into those poll-watching organizations that were financed abroad. Things took a turn for the strange when he added:

По поводу того, что образы наших граждан, избирателей собираются кем-то и как-то используются… Образы-то ладно, а вы знаете, что биологический материал собирается по всей стране, причём по разным этносам и людям, проживающим в разных географических точках Российской Федерации? Вот вопрос: вот это зачем делают?Делают целенаправленно и профессионально. Мы – такой объект очень большого интереса

As far as your concern that someone is collecting images of our citizens and voters and using them in some way…images are one thing, but did you know that biological material is being collected across the whole country, notably among different ethnic groups and people living in different geographic points of the Russian Federation? Here’s the question: Why are they doing this? They’re doing it systematically and professionally. We’re a subject of great interest.

Fuel for the meme machine

The unexpected tangent was immediately pounced upon by media outlets. Mediazona, a media outlet founded by two members of protest punk rock group Pussy Riot, posted this tweet, as they were dumbfounded by the biomaterial reference:

Help Mediazona understand what Vladimir Vladimirovich is talking about (the X-Files theme plays)

Independent TV channel Dozhd offered up this mashup of footage of Putin solemnly riding a bus accompanied by music from the famous Soviet-era spy miniseries, “Seventeen Moments of Spring”, with the caption: “Who is gathering the biological material of Russians”:

The Russian Twitter commentariat also had their fun:

Russians under hypnosis submit their biomaterial to the CIA

2004 Putin: If you’re president for seven years, you can go crazy.

2017 Putin: Unknown forces are collecting biomaterial across the country.

The cartoonist for US government-funded Radio Svoboda had a go, too, offering up this amusing take:

Urine sample collection: 8 to 10 am

From real-life arthritis research to fanciful genetic weaponry

Despite these humorous takes, there seems to be some truth to what Putin said. Russian Senator Frantz Klintzevich did not discount Putin’s words, saying in a Facebook post:

Я не утверждаю, что речь непосредственно идет о подготовке биологической войны против России. Но ее сценарии несомненно разрабатываются. Как говорится, вдруг возникнет необходимость.

I’m not claiming that there’s ongoing preparation for a biological war against Russia, per se. But these scenarios are undoubtedly being worked out.  As they say, it may suddenly become necessary.

The same day, LifeNews, a media agency that some have alleged has ties to Russia’s security services, ran a lengthy article titled “Genetic weapon against Russia. Why are the Americans collecting our biomaterial?” Claiming that the majority of people reacted with irony to what Putin said, the first part of the article is an explainer of what exactly can be considered a biological weapon.

The second section is devoted to documented instances of the collection of Russian biomaterial but for nominally scientific purposes. The collection of Russian biomaterial for the study of arthritis is mentioned, specifically a case of the United Air States Air Force looking to collect exclusively Russian material to further research on diminishing its effects on the population.

This exact story was referenced by a pro-government blogger, who said:

Yesterday, everyone laughed at Putin’s words about foreigners collecting the biomaterial of citizens of the Russian Federation. This hasn’t been news for a while.

The LifeNews article goes a bit further, stating:

Естественно, нельзя исключать и тайного сбора, действительно ведущегося на территории нашей страны. Но, как правило, подобные вещи гораздо проще замаскировать под открытое взятие биоматериалов с какой-нибудь другой целью. Представить агентов тайно, под покровом ночи заставляющих россиян плюнуть в пробирку — это уже тянет на паранойю.

Of course, we can’t exclude secret collections, which are definitely carried out on our country’s territory. However, as a rule, such things are more easily masked as collecting biomaterials for some other reason. Imagining agents, under the cover of night, secretly forcing Russians to spit into test tubes is already bordering on paranoia.

Clearly enjoying themselves, they also present another theory, that agencies like the CIA are afraid of Russian sleeper agents and could be interested in biological materials as a way of testing genotypes of suspected double-agents. The author discounts this theory, citing the difficulties in determining genotypes of any given nation’s population, and commenting on America’s ethnic “melting pot”, which would make any such testing quite unfeasible in determining whether someone was truly a sleeper agent.

There is a scientific consensus around this last part. A Russian biologist at Moscow State University commented on the notion of a genetic weapon and stressed the improbability of its development:

Про генетическое оружие – это какая-то омерзительная ложь. Такого оружия не бывает. Люди слишком похожи друг на друга, чтобы можно было создать специфическое оружие против какой-то расы. Наверное, возможно создать – очень дорого и очень сложно – создать оружие против какого-нибудь очень маленького этноса, который последнюю тысячу лет ни с кем не смешивался. Русские таким этносом не являются. Вероятно, можно, потратив безумные деньги, придумать, как истребить жителей условных Андаманских островов. Но для этого есть более простые способы

A genetic weapon is just a repulsive lie. There’s no such thing as this. People are too similar to each other for someone to be able to create a specific weapon against one race. It’s probably possible, but very expensive and difficult to create a weapon against a very small ethnic group which for the past thousand years has never interbred with anyone. Russians aren’t this sort of ethnic group. It’s probably possible, after spending an absurd amount of money, to think up ways to exterminate the residents of, let’s say, the Andaman Islands, but there are simpler ways.

Image Source: DonkeyHotey, Flickr, Creative Commons
Vladimir Putin – Caricature
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, aka Vladimir Putin, is the President of Russia.

This echoes the ending of the LifeNews article, which ends with a warning against this paranoia:

Волноваться не стоит: генетическое оружие не стоит у нас на пороге, а сборы если и ведутся, то с научными, а не военными целями.

It’s not worth worrying about: genetic weapons aren’t on our doorstep, and if they are collecting, then it’s for scientific and not military purposes.