‘No secret’: Western countries have known Novichok formula for decades, German media report
Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.
Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s.
A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.
A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany.
By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.
“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.
The sample of the nerve agent was particularly thoroughly studied by British specialists in the Porton Down laboratory. That is why they allegedly were so quick to determine the formula of the substance used to poison the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia back in March, the report says.
At the same time, the German media admitted that “Novichok has long been not a secret anymore,” calling the claim of the British authorities concerning the origin of the substance used to poison the Skripals “precarious.”
The British government accuses Russia of poisoning the Skripals in Salisbury using the nerve agent A230, which has since become known as Novichok. Part of the argument put forward by Prime Minister Theresa May for Moscow’s complicity is that Russia is the only country able to produce it. That narrative has remained largely unquestioned within the Western mainstream media.
However, Czech President Milos Zeman has recently admitted that his country did synthesize and test a nerve agent of the so-called Novichok family. Earlier, Russian officials named the Czech Republic – along with Slovakia, Sweden, the US and the UK itself – among the countries which have enough technical capabilities to produce the nerve agent.
The international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has repeatedly claimed it cannot identify the source of the agent that was allegedly used to poison the Skripals.
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