World chemical watchdog confirms Soviet-developed Novichok used in spy attack in Britain
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the UK confirms the nerve agent was of ‘high purity’
The Hague/London — Testing by four laboratories affiliated with the global chemical weapons watchdog have confirmed British findings on the nerve agent used in March’s attack on a former Russian spy in the UK, according to a summary of the findings published on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on March 12 that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group of poisons, developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which collected its own samples in Salisbury at Britain’s request, did not assign blame for the attack, in which Russia has denied involvement, or name the chemical agent.
“The results of analysis by OPCW-designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples confirm the findings of the UK relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people,” the summary said.
A British police officer took ill after helping the Skripals.
The poisoning touched off one of the biggest diplomatic crises between Russia and western nations since the Cold War, with both sides expelling scores of diplomats.
The OPCW results confirmed that the poison “was a military-grade nerve agent, a Novichok”, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.
“There can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible. Only Russia has the means, motive and record,” he said.
The poisoning of Skripal, a former double agent who settled in Britain in 2010 after being released in a spy swap, showed “how reckless Russia is prepared to be”, the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said.
Russia has denied possessing the nerve agent used, while President Vladimir Putin has said it was nonsense to think Moscow would have poisoned Skripal and his daughter.
The laboratory results will be debated at an emergency OPCW session on Wednesday, to be convened at Britain’s request. It is unclear how the OPCW will respond. Its executive council has been unable to take decisions due to splits between western powers and Russia. This has also prevented it from acting on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Testing by OPCW laboratories found the substance used in Salisbury to be of “a high purity”, which supports the British government’s assertion that a state was involved.
Yulia, who was released from hospital on Monday, said in a statement she was suffering the effects of the poisoning, while her father remained seriously ill. She declined the Russian embassy’s offer to help.
There are several variants of Novichok, a binary weapon containing two less toxic chemicals that, when mixed, react to produce a poison several times more lethal than sarin or VX. Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, identified the poison as Novichok A-234, derived from an earlier version known as A-232.