Alexei Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on August 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing. Tests performed at the German hospital showed the presence of Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
In a statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said testing by a special German military laboratory had shown “proof without doubt of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group”.
Novichok has not been used in warfare. In March 2018, it was used as a poison to target Skirpal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury in England. Both of them survived. Later, the British government accused Russia of attempted murder. Russia though denied the accusations and blamed Britain for the poisoning instead.
Much of what we know of Novichok came from the writings of scientist Vil Mirzayanov and his colleague Lev Fyodorov, who were formerly connected to the Soviet Union’s chemical weapons development institute. Their publication appeared in 1992, and it suggested that the nerve gas is 10 times more effective in killing people than the US equivalent, known as VX.
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