There are two kinds of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear and chemical weapons. I’m not going to talk about biological weapons, because they don’t exist. Even when Russia was intensively developing biological agents, they were never actually weaponized and tested.
My subject is chemical weapons, which consists of chemical agents and their delivery systems (like rockets and bombs). The modern world has been familiar with chemical weapons for almost two centuries. Their widespread use in war has caused millions of atrocities. The Soviets and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq used them to kill their own people.
Three times, a number of European countries crafted conventions for outlawing the development, production and testing of chemical weapons. The most recent one was signed in the 1993. Also was set up a List of controlled chemical agents and their precursors. Unfortunately, scientific research in this extremely dangerous area was not banned.
I am a physical chemist, and I was employed for almost 26 years at Russia’s foremost center for developing chemical agents – GosNIIOKhT in Moscow. I participated in all stages of activity, including scientific research work on the development of new chemical agents, and the production and testing of the final chemical weapons. My last position there was as the head of the Technical Counterintelligence Department of the Military Chemical Complex. I saw that the goal of the leaders of the Military Complex was to eliminate all useless old chemical weapons at the expense of the West and to keep hidden its new generation of chemical weapons, under the Code Name of Novichok.
Up to this point, Russia had developed, tested and started production of the binary chemical weapons, including the Novichok series which are up to 5-8 times more powerful than those known before. In a binary chemical weapon, two relatively harmless precursor chemicals are mixed in a rocket in flight to produce a deadly agent for delivery. One military advantage of binary weapons is that the dangerous end product does not have to be stockpiled. The binary precursors can be produced in normal factories that make agricultural chemicals like pesticides.
A Novichok chemical agent is different from VX-gas, sarin and soman. Also Novichok and its precursors are not included in the List of controlled chemical agents. On the eve of the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention, I saw this gross omission was a great lie, so I published my first article in the Russian newspaper Kuranty, to warn the whole world about this fraud. The only result was that I lost my job.
In September of 1992, I co-authored another article published in Moscow News, called “A Poisoned Policy”, which was published the same day as an interview I gave to the “Baltimore Sun”. Shortly after that, I was arrested for disclosing state secrets and sent to the KGB’s notorious Lefortovo Prison. For the 2 ½ years that followed, I was supported by a campaign of many people (mostly scientists, politicians and human rights activists) in Russia, in the US and Europe who protested my arrest and prosecution. I spent a month in a maximum security prison called Matrosskaya Tishina and the rest of the time under house arrest, until my trial in early 1994. My case was dropped, because of lack of evidence. Ultimately I emigrated to the United States.
I wanted to help the American Government to know and understand more about the Novichok weapons program, but surprisingly the CIA treated me as if I were a spy, with extremely insulting questions. Despite that and with serious reservations, I supported the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention by the US Congress, hoping that Novichok and its precursors would eventually be included into the list of chemicals prohibited by the convention.
I have waited 14 long years in vain. This is strange to me, because so many people supported me in my struggle against these extremely dangerous Russian chemical weapons. Ultimately, there is no result whatsoever. I even wondered if the US and Russia came to some kind of secret agreement to keep silence about the issue.
In these circumstances, I didn’t have any choice but to write book “State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program” where I published the real chemical formulas of Novichok agents for the first time.
One of the main goals of the book is a retool the OPCW (the United Nations agency that is charged with implementing the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention) for real control of the Novichok chemical agents. For the sake of the world’s safety.
I also hope to warn people that by allowing countries like Russia to continue scientific research in the field of chemical agents, that we left a big loophole for clandestine violations. With the development of new chemical technologies, such as nanotechnology, there are probably no limits to the size of deadly molecules that can be synthesized and used as chemical agents. Nanoparticles can be directly exposed to the victims from the air, without the need to vaporize or aerosolize chemical agents. Theoretically, it’s also possible that some kind of nanoparticles could be used to break through a gas mask. It’s not surprising that GosNIIOKhT has been included into the List of so-called system-creating enterprises of Russia, by Putin’s administration. GosNIIOKhT is also currently working in the secret part of a governmental company on nanotechnologies.
Apparently, for this reason, the Military Chemical Complex of Russia appointed a young general from the Directorate of the Chemical Troops, Mr. Kondratiev, to the post of Director of GosNIIOKhT. To look more like a civilian manager, he even “retired” from the Russian Army.
I would also like to emphasize that there is no longer any need to test new chemical weapons on an open polygon. Everything can be modeled in a laboratory with the proper equipment.