The poisoning attack took place on 4th March in Salisbury
city center in Wiltshire, UK. Sergei Skripal and his
daughter were found slumped on a bench at
4.15 pm. Traces of the nerve agent used
were found at a restaurant where
the pair had eaten as well
as a nearby pub.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has told parliament that a military-grade nerve agent was used in an attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. The attack has left Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in a critical but stable condition.
What is Novichok – [ N-2-diethylaminomethylacetamidido-ethoxyphosphonofluoridate ] ?
Novichok is the name of a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s as part of a secret program codenamed Foliant.
The various Novichok agents each have an organophosphorous core, an organic compound which contains phosphorous, and which is often used in pesticides. In fact, it’s thought that the development of Novichok was partly carried out under the guise of pesticide development. Most commonly, this core is either a phosphoramidate or a phosphonate and it is sometimes fluorinated to become a monofluorophosphate.
Other phosphonates and biphosphonates have been used in herbicides, plant growth inhibitors and medicines, while sodium monofluorophosphate can be used in toothpaste. The organic compounds added vary enormously, resulting in agents of varying potency…
Novichok, which is up to eight times more powerful than VX gas ♦, which in turn is ten times more poisonous than deadly Sarin gas, is formulated to resist standard nerve agent treatments. Meaning “newcomer” in Russian and developed to be viciously lethal and undetectable, Novichok will begin to act on muscles and respiration within minutes.
While some Novichok agents are liquids, others are thought to exist in solid form. This means they could be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder. Some of the agents are also reported to be “binary weapons”, meaning the nerve agent is typically stored as two less toxic chemical ingredients. When these are mixed, they react to produce the active toxic agent. This makes the ingredients easier to transport, handle and store as they only become fully toxic when mixed. “One of the main reasons these agents are developed is because their component parts are not on the banned list,” says Prof Stephens. “It means the chemicals that are mixed to create it are much easier to deliver with no risk to the health of the courier.”
♦ The Government of North Korea used the chemical warfare agent VX to
assassinate Kim Jong Nam, at the Kuala Lumpur airport on 13 February 2017.
Full text ⇒ HERE
In 1993, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was agreed. In 1997, the convention became international law following ratification of the treaty by 65 countries.
Today, 192 countries are fully paid-up members of the convention with only North Korea, Israel, South Sudan and Egypt still not part of the group. However, as the convention is international law, these four countries are still bound by its provisions that any use of a chemical to deliberately harm another person constitutes use of a chemical weapon – and is illegal.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) oversees implementation of the CWC and supervises destruction of declared chemical weapons and any production facilities for these weapons. To date, approximately 96 per cent of declared stockpiles have been destroyed. In October 2017, Russia announced that it had destroyed its stocks of some 40,000 tonnes. The US is expected to complete destruction of its weapons stockpile by around 2021/22.
Alastair Hay: “I have no doubt that a competent chemist looking at the published chemical structures of these compounds could work out a way of making it, and so it would not preclude any other laboratory with the right facilities and the individual having the right skills making this agent. There has been dispute about the particular chemical structures and this is why these agents were never declared as such by the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in what they call their schedules, their schedules described recognizing those nerve agents and their structures, and the Novichok chemicals were not included there although they were discussed in 2013 in the organisation…”