What We Know So Far About Russia and Novichok

After a yearlong investigation by Bellingcat, we have learned quite a bit about how Russia uses the poison Novichok to murder oppositionists.

Military Scientists

Russian Military scientists, who were involved in the original chemical weapons program were dispersed into several research entities who continued to collaborate with one another. These scientists operated as a clandestine Research & Development team with the Ministry of Defense creating a chemical weapon while disguising their work as research into antidotes to organophosphate poisoning. Other scientists were moved to civilian positions to ensure even more cover for their weapons research.

Who’s in Charge Now?

Analysis shows that the St. Petersburg State Institute for Experimental Military Medicine of the Ministry of Defense (GNII VM), has taken the lead in continued R&D of the Novichok poison since 2010 and has received assistance from researchers from the Scientific Center Signal (SC Signal).

Research shows evidence of close coordination between both institutes and a secretive sub-unit of Military Unit 29155 of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU. This Unit has previously been linked to the poisoning attempts of Emilian Gebrev in Bulgaria in 2015 as well as Sergey and Yula Skripal in the UK in 2018. Telecoms data showed that the St. Petersburg-based institute communicated intensively with members of the assassination team during the planning stage of the Skripal mission, while also communicating with scientists from SC Signal.

These research institutes also appear to collaborate with the 33rd Central Experimental Institute for Scientific Research of the Ministry of Defense, located in the town of Shikhany. This agency was originally involved in researching and testing the Russian chemical weapons program.

GosNIIHT

Research established that all of these Russian Science Institutions were in frequent communication with Russia’s Scientific Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIHT), the agency that was tasked with supervising the destruction of Russia’s arsenal of nerve agents and ensuring the termination of the country’s chemical weapons program.

The role of the 33rd Central Institute and the GsNIIOHT in the development of Russia’s nerve agent program was previously known and these two institutes were sanctioned by the European Union. However, neither GNII VM or SC Signal have been sanctioned by European or US Governments and it appears their work has stayed outside the focus of Western Intel Services. Hopefully this will change soon.

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