Russia has secret Novichok nerve-agent program, Bellingcat says

Henry Meyer

Russia is pursuing secret research to produce the banned Novichok nerve-agent that was used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to an investigation by the Bellingcat group.

Military scientists continue to work on the program in several research institutes, in some cases under cover of civilian activity, despite President Vladimir Putin’s 2017 claim to have overseen the destruction of the last of Russia’s chemical weapons stockpiles, said Bellingcat, which collaborated on the investigation with The Insider, Der Spiegel and RFE/RL.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

It said it found close links between two research organizations that allegedly have masterminded the Novichok program since 2010 – the St. Petersburg State Institute for Experimental Military Medicine of the Ministry of Defense and the Scientific Center Signal – and a clandestine unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence. The GRU was accused of carrying out the attack on Skripal, a Russian former double agent, and his daughter Yulia in England’s Salisbury in 2018.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry last month said that the Soviet Union never had a Novichok weapons program.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global watchdog, earlier this month confirmed that Navalny was poisoned by a military-grade Novichok nerve-agent on Aug. 20, when he was campaigning for anti-Putin candidates in elections in Russia’s Siberia. He was later flown to Germany for treatment.