Probably the organizers named me the Godfather of Novichok agents for a reason. Of course, I’m not their inventor, but it’s likely that no one would know about them now, if not for my actions from 1991-94. Many people in Washington, in Hague and Moscow would be happy if I hadn’t raised this problem at all.
I couldn’t do that because I feel strongly about this issue, and I will continue to warn people about the dangers of hidden, uncontrolled and unpredictable chemical agents. Right now let me to tell you how this evil was created and managed to remain hidden up to the present day.
The creation and production of Agent 33 in Russia was a milestone breakthrough in chemical arms development (Slide 1). I’d like to emphasise that Agent 33 is not VX-gas, which you can see from slide 2. It is one of a series of well-known V–gases but certainly the worst one in its stability and volatility. Probably it was chosen as the means to give the top echelon of military chemical complex the chance to receive the Lenin Prize and various medals. The factory that produced Agent 33 was quite retarded technologically. All the ventilated exhaust air was thrown into the atmosphere through ozonators, which could not destroy chemical agents and their precursors, up to necessary safety levels. Never! The water supply used a recirculation system and ozonators with the same flaws for decontamination. To make things worse, this water was used for worker laundry and showers. If I tell you that this factory was a disastrous source of permanent poisoning, not only for its workers but also for the environment and people living nearby, it would not be any exaggeration.
Anyway, for this service GosNIIOKhT, the main developer of chemical agents in Russia, was granted the right to the unlimited purchase of advanced foreign scientific equipment through some KGB- dummy companies in Germany and South Africa. A KGB officer became a Deputy Director of GosNIIOKhT, and the KGB battalion started to guard the campus.
Encouraged by success with Agent 33, the military chemical complex designed a huge new factory for the production of sarin and soman in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan. Later it was also to produce agents of the Novichok series.
The Novichok series discovered by Petr Kirpichev and his team in Shikhany, was a huge breakthrough for CW development in Russia. They were a new series of chemical agents with the P-N bond instead of a P-S- bond (Slide 2). At first he synthesized agent A-230, with the chemical formula shown on this slide. Medical biological assessment of this agent was performed at the polygon and laboratories of Military Unit 61469, and it produced positive results with a toxicity 5 to 8 times greater than Agent 33. Then Kirpichev synthesized the phosphate version of A-230 – Agent A-232 (Slide 3) with the same toxicity as Agent 33 but more volatility than the later and Agent A-230. There you can see the more potent agents of the Novichok series agent 242 and agent 262. Most notably (slide 3), Agents A-232 and A-234 are phosphates, which are not listed in the CWC list of chemicals subject to international control.
After this business was accomplished, Director Martynov of GosNIIOKhT took the Novichok problem under his personal control, giving his son the theme of Agents A-232 and A-234 with all the rights, and to that purpose he organized a special laboratory for his scion. The Central Committee of Communist Party of the Soviet Union adopted top secret Resolution 3509-123 dated April 24, 1977 for the accelerated development these agents. Kirpichev never received even a penny for his achievements, neither a laboratory nor a higher scientific degree.
Not everything was going so smoothly in Russia in the chemical weapons establishment. (Slide 4) The military openly sabotaged the promotion of Novichok agents for broader testing, which was needed for them to be accepted as chemical weapons of Soviet Army. Ultimately, the VPK (Military Industrial Commission of The Central Committee of the Communist Party) decided in 1980 to carry out the interdepartmental testing of Agent A-230 in GosNIIOKhT. I was appointed the senior analytical chemist for these experiments. The result of this work confirmed that Agent A-230 was found to be 5-8 times more potent than Agent 33.
GosNIIOKhT knew the scale of work on binary weapons in the US, and proceeded to design and test a new binary chemical weapon based on Agent 33. I was also the senior analytical chemist for this project. Those tests were unsuccessful. After that, the military chemists secured the end of funding for creating any binary weapons.
Shortly after that, Drs. Drozd and Revelskii found that during 5 years of storage, the concentration of Agent 33 in munitions dropped to the level less than 70 % (Slide 4). A panic erupted among the GosNIIOKhT leadership, but it was carefully smothered by the decision to destroy the scientific report of these two experts. To protect the situation from entirely collapsing, the decision was made to accelerate work on the promotion of Novichok agents.
In 1986-87 Agent A-230 was tested at the Nukus Polygon, using GC methods developed by my graduate student Valerij Djuzhev-Maltsev for analysis of the field samples. The results were very successful, and Agent A-230 was accepted as a chemical weapon agent of the Soviet Army. GosNIIOKhT’s Director Petrunin declared this an achievement of historic scale. (Slide 4).
Keep in mind that negotiations were ongoing in Geneva on the Chemical Weapons Convention, parallel to this chemical arms race. In order to guide the course of the Soviet delegation in Geneva in right direction, the Ministry of Chemical Industry created a special Commission of experts for the development of measures to circumvent the upcoming Convention. I was a member of this Commission, which reported its results to the Deputy of the Chief of Chemical Troops on Scientific Matters, Lieutenant General Anatoly Kuntsevich. He was precisely the main supervisor of all negotiations from the Russian side. When I was asked in the Senate hearings on November 1995 whether we can trust the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiated with Russians under the supervision of this General, who by this time had become famous by sending to Syria up to 600 kilograms of di-chloranhydride of methylphosphonic acid, the basic precursor for the production of modern chemical agents, I didn’t give an adequate answer. I greatly regret that.
On December 31, 1985 Michael Gorbachev signed top secret Resolution N 1584-434 on the development of binary chemical weapons (Slide 5), and GosNIIOKhT and the scientific industrial company Basalt intensified their work on them. At the same time, the testing the next agent of the Novichok series – Agent A-232 was successful, and it was also adopted as a chemical weapon of the Soviet Army.
Concurrently, (Slide 5) Dr. Igor Vasiliev began the intensive job of developing a binary chemical weapon based on Agent A-232 in GosNIIOKhT.
The bright prospects of this work led to Resolution N 844-186, authorizing the development of a binary weapon based on agent A-232, which was signed by Gorbachev on October 6, 1989. I’m sure that the main compelling argument for this binary was the possibility of that weapon to circumvent the upcoming CWC.
At the same time Russian leadership was careful to demonstrate good will and Glasnost, by organizing some kind of Potemkin village in Shikhany in October of 1988, exibiting decoy chemical weapon examples in front of foreign diplomats and journalists. No weapons with Agent 33 were presented among these faked models. The reaction of the Western media was very enthusiastic. It seemed that Glasnost was in action. Unfortunately, nobody in the West knew that GosNIIOKhT and the Novocheboksary Factory were busy at the same time falsifying all technological documentation, in order to demonstrate to the future CWC inspections that they had developed and produced VX-gas not agent 33. Probably, there were some loopholes which allowed that in the Convention’s procedures.
Then GosNIIOKhT (slide 5) became busy with another affair. According to the American-Russian agreement, the American experts were to visit GosNIIOKhT. In preparation for this delegation, a special commission was organized, which I was a member of, serving as the Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department. To that end, all laboratory equipment that was purchased abroad was removed from the rooms designated for visitors. Almost immediately, GosNIIOKhT started the production of phospho-poliols with the C-P bond for civilian purposes.
I was ordered to develop an analytical method for the determination of Novichok agents at the fantastic level of 1/100th of a part per trillion or 0.01 ppt. At that time nobody in the whole world was analyzing anything even at the level of 1 ppt. I told them that it was an impossible task and asked why we needed it. The answer of Deputy Director on Science, Konstantin Guskov, was even more surprising: “The American experts could accidentally wipe their handkerchiefs on the surfaces of stairway rails and analyze them at home”. Naturally, I couldn’t develop the method required of me, and the visit of the American delegation was cancelled.
In any case, the leadership of the military chemical complex didn’t lose much, because in 1990 GosNIIOKhT and NPO Basalt succeeded in the development and testing of a new binary weapon based on Agent 33, according to this reaction (Slide 6). Its production began at the Novocheboksary Factory. Then, on April 21, 1991 Gorbachev, who was already a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, awarded the top echelon of the military chemical complex with Lenin Prizes for the development, design and production of a new binary chemical weapon. In Russian terms, this was perfectly understandable, as on June 1, 1990 the US and Russia had signed the bilateral chemical weapons destruction agreement. Why not, when Russians were ready to eliminate their old garbage such as agent 33 disguised as VX gas, while keeping their new binary weapons intact? Do you see how they wrapped their work up in a shroud, when they falsified the technical documentation?
To make things more ideal, GosNIIOKhT and NPO Basalt (Slide 6) accelerated work on the development, design and testing of a new binary chemical weapon based on agent A-232, designed to circumvent any provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was based on this reaction shown on slide 6. Not a single one of these binary components are included in the list of chemicals to be controlled. Also it developed several pesticides with analogical chemical formulas for more fundamental masking of this weapon under “agricultural pesticides”. So, it became possible to produce the binary components at non-secret civil factories, where nobody could guess that they were producing weapons.
At this time, already a democratically minded scientist, I asked myself, “Can someone in this world stop this craziness, when the Chemical Weapons Convention is already getting circumvented before it enters into force, and has taken on the future role as just a tool to eliminate old garbage?” I looked around and couldn’t find any such person. Then I asked myself, “Why can’t you try to stop it?” So, in October 1991 I published my article “Inversion” in the Moscow newspaper Kuranty, which outlined my concerns without fleshing out any details. (Slide 6)
Surprisingly, nobody in the whole world paid any attention to my article. Even the KGB couldn’t prosecute me at this time, because it had lost its main tool, the secret regulations. The Supreme Soviet had canceled them earlier in 1991, but nothing changed in the chemical military complex. Work on testing a new binary chemical weapon based on Agent A-232 continued. (Slide 7) I later found out that President Boris Yeltsin illegally restored all secret regulations on state secrets on January 14, 1992 by secret order.
I was fired from my job and found it difficult to follow events in the chemical weapons area. Still, I knew through my friends that GosNIIOKhT was continuing tests on the Nukus Polygon. (Slide 7) This time I decided to go to the public again, and on September 16, 1992, I co-authored an article “A Poisoned Policy” which was published in Moscow News, and I interviewed with the Baltimore Sun about the continuing development and testing of a new generation of chemical weapons in Russia. At first there was not too much public attention generated by these publications either.
During that time the governmental newspaper “Rossijskaya Gazetta” (Slide 7) published a formal list of chemicals prohibited for export from Russia. All known chemical agents and their precursors were listed there, but not Agent 33 and the Novichok agents and their precursors. It looked like they were permitted for sale. What was going at this time abroad? On September 3, 1992 the Conference on Disarmament submitted the text of the CWC to the United Nations, and on November 30 it was approved by the General Assembly. There was no mention of Agent 33 and the Novichok agents in the schedules.
On October 22, 1992 I was arrested and sent to notorious KGB Lefortovo Prison and charged with revealing state secrets. (Slide 7) I was deprived of my lawyer, and a public uproar arose in the Russian and International media. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The New York Academy of Science, the National Academy of Science, the American Chemical Society, many prominent senators, congressmen and organizations sent letters to President Yeltsin. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and others published articles about my case. Together with human rights problems, concerns had risen about the new chemical weapons. As a result of these actions, within eleven days the Moscow District Court released me from prison.
The investigation of my case continued for two and a half years. During this time the Expert Commission (Slide 8) released its top secret Resolution stating that Mirzayanov wrote the truth, and because of that he is guilty. The government’s case was based on a top secret retroactive Resolution signed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. My colleagues Andrei Zheleznyakov and Vladimir Uglev corroborated my statements about the new chemical weapons in their interviews.
Ultimately (Slide 8) in January 1994 they held a closed kangaroo-court trial. I refused to participate voluntarily in such a mockery of the new Russian Constitution and was sent to a maximum-security prison. Under the pressure of international and the Russian public, the Attorney General of Russia released me from prison, and on March 11th my case was dismissed for lack of crime in my actions.
Nevertheless, the main issue here – the new generation of Russian chemical weapons – was left without any solution. Russia felt free under these circumstances to keep going with its deceptions, distorting and subverting the intent of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Not surprisingly, the Duma Defense Committee in its October 11, 1994 Resolution confirmed this and revealed the real goals of the military chemical complex, saying, quote and quote “…destroying old and obsolete chemical weapons is in Russia’s interest and … Convention’s ratification should be contemplated”. (Slide 8)
What is the result of ratification by the United States and Russia of the Chemical Weapons Convention? Both countries are destroying their old and obsolete weapons. This Convention doesn’t control the new Novichok Russian chemical weapons. Under these circumstances (slide 9), I didn’t have any choice but to appeal to people by publishing my new book, State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, where I gave all their chemical formulas, which I have showed here (slides 2 and 3). I am categorically refusing to buy into the tricks of my critics who are trying to blame me as a person who can help terrorists and proliferators. It is an impossible task for terrorists to produce any of the new chemical agents and weaponize them, because it requires very high-level scientists, engineers and good experience in this field, as well as extreme safety conditions. All of these could be achieved only in technologically advanced countries. Any attempt to produce chemical agents by terrorists would lead to their immediate death. Why do my opponents think that terrorists are such fine gourmets in the field of chemical weapons? It is known that the skillful and well-funded chemical engineers of the Aum Shinrikyo sect were trained in Russian military chemical units, and after that were able to use the carelessness of Japan’s government for their sarin attack. Even these educated bastards used a simple and cheap chemical agent, which has a technology of production already published in many books. What about the proliferators? Which ones are connoisseurs in area of chemical weapons? North Korea? This state is the worst knock-off version of the Soviet Union. It took more than 10 years for the last one to completely start up the production of sarin, at a factory brought from the Germany after World War II. Other two states (Syria and Egypt) don't have significant chemical industry. Of course there is also Israel. This state can probably produce any weapon that it wants, without any formulas from my book. While I was imprisoned and under house arrest in Russia just for writing in general terms about the Novichok agents, five of my colleagues (all Ph.Ds) from GosNIIOKhT escaped to Israel. They did not raise the Novichok problems in the media, as I had. Nevertheless, nobody prevented them from sharing their knowledge with the government of their new country.
I think that a proposal by my friend Mr. Tucker to include the mass-specters of the Novichok agents into the chromato-mass spectrometer library of the OPCW would be a useful measure in right the direction. At the same time, Mr. Tucker points out that the Russians did not feel the need to stockpile Novichok-5 precursors. Their plan was to mobilize the production lines of existing civilian facilities in wartime. Isn’t it is logical to ask, “Who came up with this idea? The Russians?” If so, there are not too many people who would trust them in this area. I told and am repeating it again: The Russians developed binary weapon A-232 to circumvent the CWC and didn't promise to produce it “only in wartime.” I think that once we are cheated, we should not try to justify the manipulator's actions, but instead try to fix the situation. Right now the ball is in the court of the OPCW.