Classified Chemicals

Deadly Russian poison Novichok cataloged by Germany in the '90s

No playing around. Source: AP

Two decades ago Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), reportedly helped obtain information about the deadly neurotoxin Novichok, the substance used to poison the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in March.

The Germans were privy to the poison’s chemical formula in the 1990s thanks to a sample from a Russian scientist who defected, German media reported. The compound was first analyzed in a laboratory in Sweden. Afterwards, the formula was sent to Germany’s Ministry of Defense and the BND.

It was under orders from former German chancellor Helmut Kohl that the BND informed the CIA and MI6, the respective intelligence agencies of the United States and Britain. Since then, small quantities of the poison have been produced to test antidotes, gauges and protective gear.

Germany’s Bundeswehr, or armed forces, actively researches how to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare agents within the framework allowed by international treaties, a defense ministry spokesman said. However, the ministry did not provide details of this research, saying they wouldn’t comment so as to protect the armed forces and the German population.

Then-chancellor Helmut Kohl reportedly ordered German intelligence to inform the CIA and MI6 about Novichok.

“This includes both the question of which substances are being researched and questions on the availability of these substances,” the spokesman said. “Consequently, statements and allegations are neither confirmed nor denied, or commented.” The BND also declined to comment.

The Russian scientist, who was not identified by name, was said to have smuggled the neurotoxin from Russia in exchange for a guarantee of German residency for him and his family. That operation, which apparently had support from the German intelligence services, is a sensitive issue because Germany signed an international convention in the 1950s that banned any manufacture of chemical weapons. Any experiments with a Novichok sample would have breached that convention.

Christine Coester adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global.

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