Find a Security Clearance Job!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Novichok

"Novichok" [aka "Novice", "Newcomer", "Newbie", "New Guy", "Rookie"] refers to the fourth generation of a series of neuro-paralytic substances. An important feature of the "Novice" is that this chemical agent was originally developed in Soviet laboratories to bypass not only the defense systems of NATO, but also to ensure that its production did not fall under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Former GRU Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia, even with a favorable development of events, will not be able to fully recover if they were actually poisoned with the nerve agent "Novice", the Telegraph newspaper reported on 13 March 2018, according to the words of chemist Vil Mirzayanov, who is considered one of the main developers of this poison agent. "It is at least 10 times more powerful than any known poisonous substance of nerve agent, plus it is almost impossible to cure them (poisoned by them), these people - the man and his daughter - have left, even if they survive, they will not get better" , - said Mirzayanov, who lives in the US. Binary execution is a scheme in which the ammunition contains not a ready-made agent, but two components isolated by their capacitances - non-toxic or at least not as dangerous as the final product. Immediately before application (say, in the flight of a chemical munition), the components are mixed, forming the agent itself.

This scheme, on the one hand, solves a lot of problems with storage, possible leaks and subsequent disposal. On the other hand, the concealment of the military chemical program is simpler: precursors can individually have "national economic significance" - say, as insecticides or substances for their synthesis (on which all organophosphorus chemistry, from which grow sarin, soman, herd and V-gases).

The respiratory organs get into a gaseous or aerosol form: in the form of very small solid particles or droplets, which, when entering the air, behave like gas. Nerve agents in the liquid state penetrate the body through the skin or mucous membrane. A person can also be poisoned by eating liquid or solid foods contaminated with nerve agents.

When inhaled nerve agent is poisoned very quickly, death occurs in one to ten minutes. When a nerve agent enters the body through the skin, poisoning occurs more slowly. The lethal dose of VX on the exposed skin corresponds to one or two drops (5-15 mg).

In the case of a small dose of a nerve agent in gaseous or aerosol form, typical symptoms are a severe runny nose, abnormal eyeball contraction, a violation of eye accommodation and a feeling of pressure in the chest. With more severe poisoning, these symptoms get more pronounced manifestation. Other symptoms are nausea and vomiting, spasms, convulsions and spontaneous defecation and urination, convulsions and coma. This is followed by a halt in breathing and death.

Nervous-paralytic substances of the Novichok series were named by the authors of the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (FGUP GNIIOKhT - or better known in Russian as “Goodnight”) as the strongest chemical weapons that had no analogs in the world. The series was fully established in the late 1980s, and in 1991, according to one of its authors, the curators of the development from the Soviet Ministry of Chemical Industry even received the Lenin Prize.

In its composition, "Beginner" can be a liquid, an aerosol or a gas. Poisoning with this poison leads to paralysis of muscles and severe damage to the nervous system. Death comes from stopping the breath or heart. If the lethal outcome does not occur immediately, a person is in a state of disability.

Soon, "Beginner" began to be tested on animals. In combat use, the substance depressed the breath and slowed the heartbeat. The tests were successful, and studies of various modifications of the "Novice" continued until the late 1980s. Some of them were conducted in the laboratory in Nukus, in Uzbekistan (in the late 1990s, the US explored the laboratory building to find the remains of chemical weapons).

More than 200 chemists and engineers were involved in the development of a new type of chemical weapons. Within the framework of this program, three unitary chemical agents were created (Substance 33, A-232, A-234), then five types of binary chemical weapons, code-named "Novice", were created on their basis.

    "Newbie-?" - binary form of the Soviet V-gas (Substance 33). This "Novice" ordinal number was not assigned. Industrial production (tens of tons) in the early 1980s was established in Novocheboksarsk. Adopted in the Soviet Army in 1990.
  1. "Novice-5" is a binary OB based on A-232. By toxicity, it is five to eight times greater than VX. Leading developers - I. Vasiliev and A. Zheleznyakov (GNIIOHT, Moscow). Poisoning is difficult to treat with standard antidotes. The chemical production of pilot lots "Novichka-5" (about five to ten tons) was set up in Volgograd. Tests were conducted in 1989-1990 at a training ground near the city of Nukus (Uzbekistan).
  2. "Novice-7" is a binary OB based on A-230 with volatility, as in Soman, but ten times more toxic. Leading developer - GI Drozd (GNIIOHT, Moscow). Experimental low-tonnage (tens of tons) production of this agent was established in Shihan. In 1993, it was tested at a test site in Shihan.
  3. "Novice-8" and "Novice-9" were synthesized in GNIIOKhTe, but did not reach the stage of production.

One of the poisonous substances - it had the A-232 index - was not a traditional organophosphorus nerve agent, but a synthesized pesticide with an analog structure. This opened the way to the use of chemicals from agriculture for weapons components.

As stated in the scientific article "Pavlodar chemical production: history and heritage", according to Pavlodar officials, at the Pavlodar chemical plant that existed since the mid-1950s, in the 1980s, actually created six types of binary chemical weapons, most likely - substances of the group "Beginner." According to the "Union for Chemical Safety", the chemical plant ceased to exist in the early 1990s; in 1994 it was officially closed down, and the government of Kazakhstan ordered to dispose of all the chemicals found there - during this operation, about a thousand tons of mercury went underground and landed in a neighboring lake.

A poisoning due to substance A-232 (or "Rookie-5") happened in 1987 due to a fan failure. During the next tests, the gas leaked into the laboratory, where at that time Andrei Zheleznyakov, one of the scientists, was working. Zheleznyakov felt sick, and he began to have vivid hallucinations. The scientist's unconscious body was rushed to the Sklifosovsky Institute of Emergency. He spent more than a week on the verge of life and death. Over the next six months he could not walk, suffered from depression and inability to concentrate, he could not even read. He never returned to work and, and not completely recovering from poisoning, died in 1993. The attending physician at the Sklifosovsky Institute Evgeny Vedernikov told an American correspondent that saving the patient was a difficult but not impossible task.

In October 1991, Vil S. Mirzayanov, a chemist who had worked for more than 25 years in the Soviet CW program, alleged that Moscow had developed a series of new and extremely lethal "third generation" nerve agents under a secret program code-named Foliant. His assertions were confirmed by two other scientists, Lev A. Fedorov and Vladimir Uglev. It was also claimed that Russia was working on developing new binary chemical warfare agents under the designation Novichok ["New Guy"].

For the first time, in the fall of 1992, Mir Mirzayanov, a former employee of the State Union Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GONIIOKHT), the leading developer of Soviet military chemistry, published information on the new chemical weapons program. He published a very carefully drafted article "Poisoned Politics" ("Moscow News" of September 20, 1992), which revealed the very fact of the work, but did not go into details. In particular, he spoke about the creation of new weapons, in terms of their combat characteristics far superior to those available and the damage from which is practically incurable.

Mirzayanov did not directly engage in the creation of new weapons on the issue of the "Folio". At GSNIIOKHT, he first worked as an analytical chemist and was involved in the detection of dangerous substances, and since 1986 he headed the PD department of the ITR (countering foreign technical intelligence), but, naturally, was aware of all the institute's projects and had high security certifications.

The thing is that the Soviet Union and Russia had since officially stopped all production and chemical weapons development since 1987 and started chemical disarmament. Naturally, no information about any "newcomers" was published, the USSR recognized only the organophosphorus chemical weapons of the second generation: sarin, soman and the same P-33 / VR, stubbornly named by the American isomer VX.

The employees of GNIIOKhT Vladimir Uglev and Vil Mirzayanov claimed that the "Beginner" was developed within the framework of the secret project "Folio" and is a binary chemical weapon. Its specificity is that it is brought to the "combat state" immediately before use. Prior to this, the "Novice" precursors - relatively harmless reagents - are kept separately from each other. Officially, its use and development are prohibited by international agreements, but in reality it is extremely difficult to track the production of precursors without the goodwill of the authorities.

Mirzayanov's publication evoked a response within the GSNIIOKhT system. At the end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993, two chemists, already directly involved in the "Foliant" problem, gave an interview to the press: Andrei Zheleznyakov and Vladimir Uglev. Zheleznyakov, one of the developers of "newcomers", in addition, in 1988, was poisoned in the laboratory by manipulating these substances and was seriously ill. A few months after the interview in 1993, he died.

It was these two who reported the rest of the program. In addition, Uglev drew attention to the fact that "newcomers" and their precursors are not included in the "List 1" (ready chemical weapons) and "List 2" (its precursors) of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That is, substances as it were, control and destroy them, therefore, is not required. These reports, as far as one can judge, was not about secret industrial production of poisons in thousands of tons, but about experimental batches for laboratory and field testing. In such a state, these substances remained from the Soviet era.

Mirzayanov alleged that Russia intended to test and produce binary chemical weapons after ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He was jailed in 1992 and 1993. Mirzayanov was arrested and charged with disclosing state secrets. He spent some time in Lefortovo and in Matrosskaya Tishina. Mirzayanov was released from the remand center, but in January 1994 he was again taken into custody, however, for a short while.

Mirzayanov's book contains interrogation records in which he says that he wrote an article to draw attention to the violation of international agreements on chemical weapons. He was sure that he did not disclose any secret information. At the trial, the secret services showed dozens of secret documents. One of them was a report analyzing Mirzayanov's article. It stated that everything written in it was true: new chemical weapons were developed in Soviet laboratories, which is much stronger than VX (gas created in the USA). The fact that the documents were actually shown at the trial is known not only from Mirzayanov's book, but also from Kommersant (the newspaper called the scientist "the first dissident of post-Soviet Russia"); however, the contents of the documents did not describe the publication.

In the spring of 1994, the Prosecutor General's Office issued a decision to terminate the criminal case for lack of corpus delicti. In 1996, he traveled to the States and subsequently published more details about the "Folio", in particular, some data on the qualitative and quantitative composition of the "newcomers", as well as documents on the development of GONIIOKHT, copies of which he removed while acquainting himself with the materials of the criminal case.

After the Mirzayanov scandal, this work was officially reported to be suspended.

In 1995, the "Beginner" was perhaps for the first used as a weapon. In August of that year, the chairman of the board of Rosbusinessbank, Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary were poisoned with an unknown poison: they had convulsions, they lost consciousness, and subsequently died. The police officers who came to Kivelidi's office, too, felt ill, they had dizziness, a headache, tears in their eyes. A month later he died a pathologist, who opened Kivelidi's body. Experts found that the poison was applied to the telephone; as claimed in the investigation of the newspaper "Top Secret", it could be synthesized only in the laboratory of the scientific research institute in Shihan - exactly where the "Novice" was researched and created. "Kommersant" wrote that the substance was purchased from the employee of GNIIOKhT, who was then convicted for abuse of authority.

In 1996, Mirzayanov emigrated to the United States, where he began teaching at Princeton University. Ten years later he published a book detailing the program of chemical weapons in the USSR.

In 2011 the Scientific Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noted that there is no evidence of the existence of the "Novice", apart from the statements of Mirzayanov.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list