A sample of Novichok (substance A-234), the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals in the United Kingdom in March 2018, was obtained by German intelligence in the 1990s, local media have reported. Since then, the substance has been studied and produced by NATO countries.
Western countries, including the US and UK, have long been aware of the chemical composition of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media have reported following after a investigation.
The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insight into the issue of the nerve agent that would have been used in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.
Western governments managed to get 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 decades ago.
A Russian scientist has provided German intelligence with information about the development of Novichok some time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, German broadcasters NDR and WDR, as well as the daily newspapers Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung claimed, citing anonymous sources at the BND. At some point the man offered the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for himself and his family.
A sample was eventually smuggled by the scientist’s wife and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical laboratory, according to the reports. After the analysis of the sample, the Swedish experts established the substance’s formula, which they then delivered to Germany.
At the behest of then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including US and UK intelligence. The United Kingdom, the United States and Germany later set up a special “working group” to study 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 services reported, adding what was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it is not yet clear which specific states were involved in the production of Novichok.
The sample of the nerve agent was particularly studied by British experts in the Porton Down laboratory. Hence why they were supposedly quick to determine the formula used to poison former dual agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, the report says.
At the same time, the German reports admitted that “Novichok has not been a secret for a long time,” calling the British authorities’ claim about the source of the substance used to poison the Skripals “precarious”.
The British government continues to accuse Russia of poisoning the Skripals in Salisbury. Part of the argument put forth by Prime Minister Theresa May alleging the complicity of Moscow is that Russia is the only country capable of producing it. This narrative has remained largely unquestioned in the mainstream Western media.
However, Czech President Milos Zeman also recently admitted that his country synthesized and tested a nerve agent part of the Novichok family. Earlier, Russian authorities named the Czech Republic – along with Slovakia, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom – among countries that have sufficient technical capacity to produce the nerve agent.
The International Chemical Weapons Control Body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has repeatedly stated that it can not identify the source of the agent that was allegedly used to poison the Skripals. Nevertheless, the incident has been used as a pretext to expel Russian diplomats from numerous countries and launch a new round of accusations of “Russian hybrid war.”