Made in the USSR
The nerve agents known as Novichok or “newcomer” were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Described as among the deadliest nerve agents ever made, Novichok was designed as part of a program codenamed “Foliant,” aimed at developing a new series of extremely lethal third-generation substances.
According to The New York Times, Russia used “one of the former Soviet Union’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities” to conduct research and testing of a new class of secret chemical weapons “Novichok.” Between 1999 and 2002, the Nukus plant, located in Uzbekistan, was dismantled and decontaminated with the help of the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Uzbekistan’s decision to renounced weapons of mass destruction.
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The media outlet cited the Chemical Research Institute employee Vil Mirzayanov as saying that the Nukus plant was specifically built in 1986 to test “Novichok binary weapons designed to escape detection by international inspectors.”
Vil Mirzayanov was the first to describe the deadly nerve agent in a report examining Russia, chemical weapons and disarmament. While some “newcomer” agents come in liquid form, others may exist in solid form; Novichok can be dispersed in an ultra-fine powder instead of a gas or vapor.
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Some of the nerve agents are allegedly binary weapons, which are made of two ingredients and become lethal and toxic only when mixed at the last minute before detonation. The nerve agents may reportedly be delivered via various systems, including artillery shells, bombs, missiles and spraying devices.
Unlike Novichok, the chemicals for such weapons as VX, sarin and soman, are combined during the manufacturing process making them dangerous from the outset. Although, according to Mirzayanov, Novichok is five to seven times more toxic than VX gas, taking effect rapidly, allegedly, anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, however, it could take the substance longer to act if it comes in powder form.
The “newcomer” is believed to have the same impact on a person as other nerve agents, causing lasting nerve damage and the failure of major bodily functions. Novichok may also cause convulsions, loss of consciousness and coma; slowing of the heart and death by asphyxiation.