Table of contents:
- Who Invented The Newbie?
- What is the danger of the "Novichok" poisonous substance?
- How does a poisonous substance work?
- Is there an antidote?
- Is "Novichok" produced only in Russia?
The German government has officially announced the poisoning of Navalny with the poison of the Novichok group. Previously, the same poison was used in the assassination attempt on ex-agent Skripal and his daughter. Let's take a look at the basic facts about this substance.
Investigative work in Salisbury
German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (Angela Merkel) on Wednesday, September 2, officially announced the results of toxicological analysis of samples taken from the Russian politician Alexei Navalny, who is in the Berlin Charite clinic.
The Russian "became the victim of an assassination attempt with the use of a military chemical nerve agent of the Novichok family," the chancellor said, adding that "the presence of this poison in the analyzes is beyond doubt."
In March 2018, in the UK, with the help of Novichok, an attempt was made on the life of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. This caused a diplomatic scandal, as London accused the Russian authorities of organizing the assassination attempt. A little later, the British Don Sturges died from the same poison as a result of a tragic accident.
Who Invented The Newbie?
"Novichok" is a group of organophosphate toxic substances of nerve-paralytic action. The Soviet Union developed it in the 1970s and 1980s as part of a chemical weapons program called the Folio.
All publicly available information about this poison was made public by the Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov. He worked for 26 years at the State Union Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GSNIIOKhT), where the development of toxic substances of the Novichok group was carried out.
Novice developer Vil Mirzayanov at his home in Princeton
In 1992, the scientist, together with Lev Fedorov, a leading researcher at the Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry (GEOCHI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, published an article in the Moscow News newspaper, in which he said that Russia, based on Novichok, had developed a new generation of binary weapons and was going to hide it from the world community.
According to Vil Mirzayanov, he could not come to terms with such a "deception", especially considering that Moscow was then preparing to sign the international Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
After the article was published, Mirzayanov was arrested and charged with divulging state secrets. By that time, he had already been fired from GSNIIOKhT. Subsequently, the scientist's case was closed, since no corpus delicti was found in his actions, and Mirzayanov himself emigrated to the United States.
In an interview with Reuters, he said that more than one ton of substances from the Novichok group was produced in Russia. "Nobody in the whole world knew about this," the scientist added.
What is the danger of the "Novichok" poisonous substance?
The "Novichok" group includes more than a hundred toxic substances of various structures. The most dangerous of them are "Novichok-5" and "Novichok-7". They are eight times more toxic than VX gas - the most poisonous of all substances artificially synthesized by humans.
Not much is known about the chemical composition of Novichok. It can be synthesized by mixing two non-toxic components. According to Mirzayanov, this allowed Soviet scientists to manufacture the constituents of the poisonous substance under the guise of producing agricultural chemicals.
The scientist suggested that the poison for the assassination attempt on Skripal was produced in Russia in the form of two harmless components, which were already combined in the UK in a tiny spray bottle with an aerosol.
Mirzayanov, who, by his own admission, tested and improved Novichok for many years, knows like no one else what effect this poison has on the human body.
According to him, it is "at least ten times more powerful than any nerve agent." Ten grams of this poison is already a high concentration, the scientist explained: "In the summer, only two grams would be enough to kill 500 people."
The "beginner" affects the nervous system, as a result of which the victim of poisoning cannot breathe and experiences very severe pain. "This is torture. It is absolutely incurable," Mirzayanov told Reuters. Those poisoned with this substance have no chance of recovery.
Even if Sergei and Yulia Skripal survive, they will remain disabled, the chemist said in an interview with The Telegraph. Whether this is really so is unknown. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were discharged from the hospital in May and April, respectively, but continue to undergo treatment. Their whereabouts are kept secret.
How does a poisonous substance work?
The British side does not specify which chemical from the Novichok group was used to poison Skripal and his daughter. However, according to Michelle Carlin, a toxicologist at Northumbria University in Newcastle, the effects of this poison are similar to those of other nerve agents.
Once in the body, the poisonous agent chemically binds the protein that regulates the transmission of nerve impulses. This leads to the fact that nerve signals begin to flow uncontrollably to the tissues of the body, organs and muscles. As a result, the heart, respiratory and other muscles are overexcited.
Signs of nerve poisoning include excess salivation and breathing problems as the person can no longer control their muscles, Carlin explained in an interview with DW. "This can lead to paralysis, convulsions and ultimately death, if we are talking about a very high dose or prolonged exposure to a toxic substance," she added.
Since the toxic substances of the Novichok group are much more toxic than other similar substances, they act much faster, Karlin said. In this case, the ingestion of even a very small dose of poison can cause very serious harm.
Is there an antidote?
Newbie poisoning is treated by administering two drugs to the patient. The antidote of organophosphorus compounds, pralidoxime, triggers the synthesis of an enzyme in the body, which is blocked by a toxic substance. This prevents the uncontrolled flow of nerve impulses to organs and muscles.
In addition, doctors administer atropine to the patient. "This substance is also used in cases of poisoning with other organophosphates, such as insect repellents or pesticides," said Karlin.
She also noted that, getting into the environment, the toxic substances of the "Novichok" group pose a danger only for some time. The nerve agent breaks down in contact with moisture, so it can be washed off with water.
However, any potential contact with the poison of the Novichok group is dangerous, so those who used it to assassinate Skripal were also at great risk, the toxicologist noted. "If a nerve agent is composed of two non-toxic components, it is obviously easier to handle," the expert explained. "But once the components are mixed, problems can arise."
Is "Novichok" produced only in Russia?
On June 9, 2018, after the death of Don Sturges, the head of the British Department of Defense said: "The simple truth is that Russia launched an attack on British soil, which led to the death of a British subject."
In the case of the poisoning of the Skripals, then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May also repeatedly argued that Russia was "highly likely" behind the assassination attempt on former GRU colonel and ex-British MI6 agent Sergei Skripal. According to the British authorities, only Russia is producing the Novichok nerve agent, which poisoned the former intelligence officer and his daughter.
Its developer, Vil Mirzayanov, stated the same. In an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph, he said that only Russia could create Novichok, which would never have issued its formula. In Soviet times, even the very fact of the development of this poisonous substance was kept secret, Mirzayanov noted.
Therefore, the scientist suggested, if Skripal was poisoned with Novichok, then either the Russian authorities really stand behind this attack, or Russia has lost control over the poison, which could fall into the wrong hands. The Russian Federation denies any involvement in the Skripal poisoning.