On the «Novichok» Toxic Chemicals Class

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The Soviet Union was one of the originators of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and has consistently supported the swift implementation of its provisions.

A number of initiatives to enhance transparency of the Soviet chemical warfare program had been undertaken even before the finalization of the text of the CWC. Among those was the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the USA and the Government of the USSR Regarding a Bilateral Verification Experiment and Data Exchange Related to Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Wyoming Memorandum of Understanding), signed in September 1989. With a view to implementing that instrument, the Parties exchanged data on the national stockpiles of chemical weapons and their storage locations and later in 1990–92 organized reciprocal visits of experts to the respective Soviet/Russian and US facilities.

As the legal successor and continuer of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has always advocated the complete prohibition of chemical weapons and has consistently reaffirmed its commitments in that regard.

Russia was among the first States to sign the CWC on January 13, 1993, and proceeded without delay to its implementation despite the financial and economic difficulties of state development in the post-Soviet period. All national stockpiles of chemical weapons and its production facilities were declared in strict accordance with the provisions of the Convention. Russia produced no chemical weapons other than the declared ones.

The destruction of all Russia’s stockpiles of chemical weapons was conducted under strict international supervision. The laborious process was concluded on September 27, 2017. On October 11, 2017, the Director General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat certified the completion of the destruction of the Russian Federation’s chemical weapons.

As for the chemical which became known as «Novichok» in the West, information on its structure and mass spectrum was first found in the mass spectral database of the American Institute of Standards in 1998 (NIST 98). It was stated that data on the agent had been provided by the US Army Edgewood Research, Development and Engineering Center. Later on, a class of toxic agents that do not fall within the CWC scope was formed based on the said chemical.

Since the mid-1990s, about 20 Western states have been involved in research activities on organophosphates of the «Novichok» class, including on their production methods and lesion effects. Structures of at least one hundred chemicals somewhat related to the «Novichoks» have been quoted in foreign scientific publications. Most of those have been indexed in the American Society Chemical Abstract System, which means that they were synthesized and then registered in the CAS database.

The US alone has issued more than 140 patents related to use of «Novichok» chemical warfare agents and protection against exposure to them.

Former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson in his interview with Deutsche Welle on 20 March 2018 confirmed that the Porton Down laboratory also possessed a specimen of such a toxic agent. That enabled the laboratory to identify the toxic chemical agent in samples collected in the aftermath of the Salisbury incident on 4 March 2018.

In view of the fact that methods to obtain chemicals of the «Novichok» class are widely available in Western countries, where there are high-technology chemical laboratories, it seems particularly difficult to determine exactly which country the type of substance found in Salisbury originates from. The report of the OPCW Technical Secretariat on technical assistance provided to the United Kingdom following the incident in Salisbury also fails to identify the country of origin.

At the 59th Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (the Hague, 18 April 2018), the Russian Federation, as a responsible State Party to the CWC, recommended that, in order to enhance the Convention, the Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat should prepare and submit to the Council a draft decision providing for the beginning of practical work to amend the Annex on Chemicals, in accordance with paragraph 5 of Article XV of the CWC  (document EC-M-59/NAT.4 of 18 April 2018).

In May 2018, the Russian Federation sent to the OPCW Technical Secretariat its proposals to include nearly one thousand new items in the lists of controlled chemicals. We are convinced that this step would contribute to further consolidation of the regime of non-proliferation and elimination of chemical weapons.

Bibliography

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