Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov, one of the creators of the Novichok nerve agent most recently used to poison Russian politician Alexei Navalny, says that the West could calculate just how much poison the Soviets made, because the USSR imported one of its components from Germany and Italy.
Mirzayanov, now living in the US, told the world in the early 1990s that the Soviets had been working on the Novichok poison in the late 1980s. He was charged with treason but was able to emigrate to the US where he published a book that included the formula of the deadly substance.
Here’s Mirzayanov in an abridged interview with Latvian Radio’s Krustpunktā show on October 5.
How did you find yourself working at a secret lab in the USSR?
It was a coincidence. I needed the money, and I decided to go to the address which worked on chemical weapons. It was purely for money.
Were you aware of what was happening there?
I had an idea, but I didn’t know for sure. Later on I of course learned it all. The [work] was justified saying it’s as if chemical weapons were needed to protect and defend the country. So I surmised it’s perhaps not that bad. I wasn’t really a patriot, because at the time I was listening to Voice of America and other broadcasts regularly. I had a very critical stance [against the Soviet government].
Nevertheless, the level of science was rather respectable in the country. I found myself at the building and worked as a physiochemist. [..]
The [chemical weapons program] involved at least several thousand people, and I was one of them. I never synthesized this substance, however. I only partook in research and tests. That was my role.
Nevertheless, I am not justifying myself. Before I went public, at the end of my career at the GosNIIOKhT [facility], I had come to the conclusion that I was engaged in criminal activities. [..]
Was Novichok ever used or was it only stored somewhere?
Our goal was to take Novichok to the level where it could be employed by the Soviet Army. The substances A-230 and A-232 were adopted as weaponry by the Soviet Army right before signing the [1990 Chemical Weapons] Accord. There was extensive testing of a weapon based on A-232.
But after the convention was signed, were these substances still stored as weaponry in Russia?
Yes they did. The world still doesn’t know how much of this weaponry we produced and where it is being stored. The Russian government says that it has destroyed everything it ever produced.
I want to reveal a secret to your audience. Everyone is unaware of how much of these Novichok substances was produced in the USSR. My own estimates are very approximative and I would never be able to say I’m 100% correct.
But the thing is that you can in fact estimate the volume produced through industrial intelligence. The Soviet Union, even though it partook in the chemical weapons race, did not have extensive infrastructure for manufacturing the necessary precursors.
For example, the Soviets did manufacture the “phosphorus part” of these Novichoks, which they were able to do at the Volgograd department which manufactured sarin gas. But they were unable to make acatemidine. So what did they do? They bought it in Germany or Italy.
It was then sent to Turkey and through Turkey or another country our agents… this way we bought the necessary precursors. [..]
So all you have to do is look at production records of acetamidine in the West and see who it was sold to.
Mirzayanov also used the interview to suggest that amateurs and terrorists would be unable to produce Novichok poisons, and other countries without the experience and knowledge too.
He went on to speculate that Russian doctors could not have been unable to detect Novichock in Alexei Navalny during his stay in Omsk. According to Mirzayanov, the recent events were an attempt on Navalny’s life, but there was a mix-up as concerns the dosage, as only data for testing on animals is available, and the nerve agent has different lethal doses depending on the recipient.