Novichok in Russian means something completely new, when it comes to objects. If you are talking about people, translation would be a newbie.

In the specific case of the toxic substance that, according to a German military laboratory, seems to have been the cause of the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalni, who has been in a coma since last August 20, had several names in a wide range of poisons later renamed Novichok, A-232 was the best known and most powerful. This is how it was called in the Soviet Union after its creation in the 1970s at the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GNIIOJT).

It is an organofluorophosphate binary compound with a nervous action that inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. It consists of two different substances. Separately they are relatively harmless, but their enormous toxic action is activated when they are mixed. This particularity allows A-232 not to be detected as something dangerous when it is transported.

All this information is known thanks to the Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov, the first to reveal the existence of the Novichok group formulas in a book published in 1990. The GNIIOJT center, according to Mirzayanov, also bore the coded name of NII-42 (Scientific Research Institute number 42), located on Entuziastov Avenue in Moscow. The Soviet chemical weapons manufacturing program was secretly developed in its facilities.

The Russian scientist, who is still alive and 85 years old, tells in his book that he began work on NII-42 in 1965 and that during the 1970s “a great leap forward” was made in the creation of chemical weapons. He argues that A-232 has a deadly power of “five to eight times” greater than anything that had ever been produced before. Already under the name Novichok, Mirzayanov recalls, the A-232 became part of the Soviet Army’s chemical arsenal from 1990. With a derivative of this substance, A-234, an ointment that acts through the skin, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia were poisoned in Salisbury in March 2018.

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