Russian spy: This is how nerve agent Novichok destroys your mind and body even if you survive
If Sergei and Yulia Skripal survive being poisoned by Novichok nerve agent, they may be left suffering illnesses that ruin their lives â" which may be the point of the attack, security experts have warned.
The case of a Russian military scientist accidentally exposed to Novichok appears to show that even surviving the effects of the supertoxic nerve agent is horrific.
Andrei Zheleznyakov was said to have been injected with an antidote almost immediately, but a friend said he still went from being a jovial, creative man to suffering âchronic weakness, toxic hepatitis, epilepsy, severe depression and an inability to concentrate,â before dying five years later.
- Read more
May says it's 'highly likely Russia was responsible' for spy attack
And The Independent has been told that the Salisbury nerve agent attack, may have been part of a plan to leave a Mafia-style âcalling cardâ showing anyone, anywhere in the world that if they betrayed or defied Russia they wouldnât just get a bullet in the back of the head â" they would die horribly.
Dr Patricia Lewis, research director for International Security at Chatham House, said whoever used a Novichok chemical against the Skripals would have known it would be traced back to Russia.
She said British experts would have been able to detect minute trace elements proving the nerve agentâs country of origin, and would therefore have been able to rule out the possibility it was from stocks developed by other nations for the purposes of devising defences against it.
The experts, she said, would not just have relied on the fact Russia was the country which de veloped Novichok.
âThere are ways to detect and be much more sure about where it came from,â Dr Lewis, who served on the 2004-6 WMD Commission chaired by Dr Hans Blix. âThere are very high resolution analysis techniques that can track down trace elements, certain types of chemicals in the particular region where it has been made.â
âRussia knows there are techniques to pinpoint where something came from,â Dr Lewis added. âWhoever did this would know this was traceable back to Russia. So why use such an obvious thing, leaving such an obvious trace?â
One possible reason, said Dr Lewis, could have been a desire to send a clear message.
âThis clearly wasnât just a bullet to the head,â she said. âThis was a communication â" along with the polonium attack [on Alexander Litvinenko] â" that this is going to be a horrible way to die.
âThe communication is there to people who have, in their view, betrayed Russia.
â Itâs a very Mafia-type approach, by people who want to frighten.â
Skripal attack aftermath â" in pictures
- 13 show all
Skripal attack aftermath â" in pictures
Investigators in protective clothing remove a van from an address in Winterslow near Salisbury in Wilt shire, as police and members of the armed forces continue to investigate the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripa
A police officer on duty near the protective tent which covers the bench where a man and woman were apparently poisoned with what was later identified as a nerve agent, in Salisbury
Military in protective clothing prior to removing vehicles from a car park in Salisbury
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equipment cover an ambulance wi th a tarpaulin at the Salisbury District Hospital
Home Secretary Amber Rudd visits the scene of the nerve agent attack in Salibsury
Members of the emergency services in hazard suits fix the tent over the bench where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found
Officials in protective suits check their equipment before repositioning a forensics tent
A poice officer stands guard outside a branch of the Italian chain restaurant Zizzi
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who assisted the Russian ex-spy targeted with a nerve agent, was also hospitalised
Sergei Skripal days before he was exposed to a mystery substance that has left him fighting for life
Police officers outside Sergei Skripalâs home
Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow.
Yulia Skripal, who is thought to have been poisoned along with her father, Sergei Skripal
The experience of Andrei Zheleznyakov appears to suggest the effects of Novichok can be horrific even if you survive.
Mr Zheleznyakov is understood to have been a military chemist testing the âfinished productâ as it was being developed in secret in Moscow.
According to an account relayed by Vil Mirzayanov to David E.Hoffman author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, Zheleznyak ov was exposed after a ventilation pipe broke at the secret facility in 1987.
âThe pipe somehow broke,â Hoffman wrote, âAnd the poison leaked into the air. Zheleznyakov quickly sealed the leak, but it was too late. He felt the impact immediatelyâ"myosis, the constriction of the pupil of the eye.
ââI saw rings before my eyesâ"red, orange,â he later recalled. âBells were ringing inside my head. I choked. Add to this the feeling of fearâ"as if something was about to happen at any moment. I sat down and told the guys: I think it has âgotâ me.
ââThey dragged me out of the room and took me to the chief. He looked at me and said, âHave a cup of tea, everything will be fine.â I drank the tea and immediately threw up.
ââThey took me to the medical unit, he added, âWhere I was injected with an antidote. I felt a little better. The chief told me: âGo home and lie down. Come back tomorrow.â
ââThey assigned me an escort, and we walked past a few bus stops. We were already passing the church near Ilyich Square, when suddenly I saw the church lighting up and falling apart. I remember nothing else.ââ
Zheleznyakov, said Hoffman, was taken to a hospital where KGB agents made the doctors sign lifelong secrecy agreements, and told medics the military chemist was suffering from food poisoning after eating a dodgy sausage.
Zheleznyakov, it seems, spent 18 days in intensive care but survived. His life, however, appears to have been ruined.
Using information from Mirzayanov, who now lives in the US after revealing the existence of the Novichok programme in 1992, Hoffman wrote: âAt the end of the hospitalisation, he [Zheleznyakov] was given a pension and told to remain silent.
âZheleznyakov suffered after-effects for a long time, including chronic weakness in his arms, toxic hepatitis, epilepsy, severe depression and an inability to concentrate.
â Zheleznyakov had been a jovial man and was known as a talented woodcarver, but the accident left him unable to work or be creative. He died five years after the accident.â
Major General Chip Chapman, the former head of counter terrorism at the Ministry of Defence, agreed it was likely that part of the motivation for using such a devastating weapon was to intimidate potential internal and external opponents of Vladimir Putin's government.
Mr Chapman said: âThe use of any chemical agent is a psychological thing, and this is a psychological message, not necessarily to Britain, but to those who are political opponents or potential traitors to the Russians in any country.
âIt sends a message a lot wider than just to the UK audience. It is part of what the Russians are up to at the moment.â
Dr Lewis stressed she could only speculate about motive and the identity of whoever attacked the Skripals.
She couldnât entirely rule out the possibility that rogue elements in the Russian establishment had acted without the approval of Vladimir Putinâs government, but she said such a freelance operation was unlikely.
State-sponsored action, she said, was the more likely scenario.
âThis stuff is very dangerous,â said Dr Lewis. âIt would be highly guarded. The idea that somehow it was let out by rogue elements seems a bit of a stretch.â
The Russian government has accused Britain of engaging in hysterical propaganda by suggesting it might have had some link to the Salisbury poisoning.
- More about:
- Sergei Skripal
- nerve agent
- nerve agents
- Vladimir Putin