The scandal with wings - South Ossetia claims to have uncovered another conspiracy between Georgia and the United States
South Ossetia continues to discuss an unusual breaking news story – the authorities have accused Georgia of environmental sabotage. Local special services detained a Georgian citizen, who said on camera that he was trying to gather the “cocoons” of local bats, for which he was promised a lot of money.
The story made a huge impression on the South Ossetian authorities and the media, who immediately linked the hapless bat catcher with the American Lugar laboratory in Tbilisi and the spread of the coronavirus. Public opinion was divided – some took it seriously, while others consider the authorities’ story to be “nonsense.”
All about the bats
Khvicha Mgebrishvili was detained on July 3 near the village of Adzisar in the Tskhinval region of South Ossetia for violating the state border. During the interrogation by South Ossetian KGB officers, he explained that he was interested in a colony of bats in the villages of Artseu and Grom of the Tskhinvali region.
In the video of the interrogation, which was published by local media sites, Mgebrishvili says that was going to these villages to find “bat cocoons”, for subsequent sale in Georgia. They promised to pay him between 5,000 – 10,000 US dollars for one cocoon.
The KGB of South Ossetia not only wholeheartedly believed the detainee’s story, but also stated that Tbilisi-based “Lugar Center for Public Health Research has shown increased interest in the population of South Ossetian bats since 2012”.
This is far from the first time that the Lugar Lab has been a topic of discussion in both South Ossetia and Russia, where the media and authorities accused the laboratory of creating biological weapons, and even of biological sabotage.
The laboratory on the front line of information
The American Research Center in Georgia has haunted Russian officials and media for many years
The South Ossetian KGB has provided many details about how laboratory staff are engaged in catching bats in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia, which borders South Ossetia.
“Since 2018, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has been using the Lugar Center as a field laboratory to implement a $2,900,000 project on bats and coronaviruses. It was meant to be a 5-year program and is being implemented with the help of the Eco Health Alliance,” the agency said.
At the same time, the KGB reminds the public that “the bats living in the Republic of South Ossetia – the lesser mouse-eared bat – like the rest of the bats, are viviparous and do not build any nests, cocoons and other shelters”. And also that these animals are listed in the Red Book and hunting them is punishable by prison.
The Lugar Lab, bats and the coronavirus
Following the statement by the KGB, the South Ossetian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stated that out there is a “dangerous military biological cooperation between Georgia, the United States and other countries.”
“From the first days that this American military biological facility was opened, information about the ongoing development of chemical and biological weapons, as well as strains of dangerous viruses, has been actively disseminated. It is also well known that bats are the most likely cause of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ministry said.
The South Ossetian Foreign Ministry believes that Mgebrishvili’s actions “are not an ordinary provocation, but a planned special operation to extract biological material – living bats inhabiting the territory of South Ossetia.”
“Biological war”, “bad science fiction”, “fever dream”
Public opinion on the scandalous information released by the authorities was divided.
Political scientist Alan Mamiyev believes that “the USA is even prepared to sacrifice Georgian lives for the sake of the war with Russia and its national interests, and these laboratories are primarily a threat to Georgians themselves.”
But not everyone believes the story the authorities are telling.
“South Ossetian media has taken an entertaining story and transformed it into a full-fledged bad sci-fi drama involving a shadowy biological laboratory, coronavirus and vampire bats, bringing death to the population,” commented Ruslan Totrov, a video blogger from North Ossetia.
In his opinion, the accusations seem ridiculous.
“I understand that propaganda needs to be at the state level. But it shouldn’t be so clumsy; it needs to be professional enough that we can somehow convince the outside world of the seriousness of our intentions. And not just weave scary, funny or just ridiculous stories,” says Totrov.
Most people in the South Ossetian Facebook community generally supported the authorities’ version of the story.
“The order for bats from the Republic of South Ossetia came straight from the laboratory. From Lugar, this is clear. We can’t let our guard down at all, there is a hybrid terrorist biological war being waged, and those who don’t know this must live under a rock,” writes one social media user.
There are also some skeptics: “I don’t know what a bat cocoon is, let Mgebrishvili show us what it is they’re promising him $5,000 for. It sounds the fever dream of a drunken hedgehog.”
Civil activist Timur Tskhurbati believes that South Ossetian special forces are acting unprofessionally, and that the detainee is “talking complete nonsense.”
At the same time, Tskhurbati sees nothing wrong with selling bats to those who need them:
“Bat’s don’t make cocoons. If the interest is in the bats themselves, why not arrange to have them shipped, if they are really offering so much money? For centuries, no one has disturbed the bats in South Ossetia, except by accident. I think their population could easily withstand some losses, and we will learn more about the Lugar laboratory.”
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