Underpants Espionage: Russia’s Seven Novichok Links

Did Alexei Navalny really trick a Russian Federal Security Service agent into admitting spies poisoned his underwear with Novichok? The astonishing claim launched a hundred memes over a plot-twist decidedly more Maxwell Smart than James Bond.

Russian critic Navalny fell ill in 2020 and lay comatose for weeks in a German hospital. European laboratory tests linked his condition to a type of Novichok used in the 2018 poisoning of Russian-British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. 

Russia denied any involvement in the deaths or in a Novichok weapons program, however, blaming anti-Russian hysteria and a 'sanctions itch'.

Despite the denials, there are deadly ties linking Russia to the nerve agent. Banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, Novichok is believed to be more potent than VX gas, which was developed for military use in chemical warfare. SPYSCAPE examined the historic links between Russia and the poison.

Underpants Espionage: Russia’s Seven Novichok Links

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Did Alexei Navalny really trick a Russian Federal Security Service agent into admitting spies poisoned his underwear with Novichok? The astonishing claim launched a hundred memes over a plot-twist decidedly more Maxwell Smart than James Bond.

Russian critic Navalny fell ill in 2020 and lay comatose for weeks in a German hospital. European laboratory tests linked his condition to a type of Novichok used in the 2018 poisoning of Russian-British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. 

Russia denied any involvement in the deaths or in a Novichok weapons program, however, blaming anti-Russian hysteria and a 'sanctions itch'.

Despite the denials, there are deadly ties linking Russia to the nerve agent. Banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, Novichok is believed to be more potent than VX gas, which was developed for military use in chemical warfare. SPYSCAPE examined the historic links between Russia and the poison.

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1. Russian scientist Vil S. Mirzayanov blew the whistle on Novichok tests (1982) 

Russian scientist Vil S. Mirzayanov, who worked at the Soviet State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, helped develop Novichok in the 1970s. Mirzayanov was briefly imprisoned for telling the Moscow News that Russia was testing chemical weapons while also signing international agreements banning them. Mirzayanov later moved to the US and published his book State Secrets.

I never thought that the things that we developed and spent so much of our time and abilities on would someday become a weapon of terror,” he told Radio Free Europe. “We always thought that it was necessary for the defense of the country. But later I understood that it is simply a weapon of mass murder that affects defenseless people. Not combatants, but civilians."

Russia's Novichok links


2. Russian scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov, poisoned in the Soviet Union (1987) 

The first Novichok victim was a Soviet scientist, Andrei Zheleznyakov in a 1987 accident. “Circles appeared before my eyes, red and orange. A ringing in my ears. I caught my breath. And a sense of fear, like something was about to happen,” Zheleznyakov told a Russian newspaper.

“I sat down on a chair and told the guys: ‘It’s got me.’” He died of a brain seizure in 1993.


3. Banker Ivan Kivelidi and Zara Ismailova, poisoned in Moscow (1995)

Vladimir Uglev, the Russian scientist who developed nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s, claims Novichok killed Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi, 46, and his assistant Zara Ismailova, 35, in 1995. At the time of their deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported Kivelidi’s murder as a 'particularly sinister' poisoning, possibly with heavy metal salts or cadmium, and said police found a high level of radioactivity coming from a telephone receiver used by both victims.

Russia's Novichok links


4. Emilian Gebrev, poisoned twice in Bulgaria (2015)

Emilian Gebrev, owner of the Bulgarian weapons firm Emco, was poisoned twice in 2015 ‘by intoxication with an unidentified phosphorus-organic substance’ resembling Novichok, according to Bulgarian authorities. He survived both attacks. According to The New York Times, Russian officers suspected of belonging to a military unit - GRU Unit 29155 - traveled to Bulgaria that same year. Gebrev believes one of the attacks occurred in a restaurant. He told the newspaper that his company had shipped military equipment to Ukraine after 2014, when Russian-backed separatists started a war with Ukrainian forces.

5. Sergei and Yulia Skripal, poisoned in England (2018)

Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for British intelligence, was poisoned in Salisbury, England along with his daughter, Yulia. Two men implicated in the attempted assassination admit they were in Salisbury at the time in March 2020, but just to visit the cathedral. "It's famous for its 123-meter spire," Ruslan Boshirov (aka Anatoly Chepiga) told RT television. Boshirov and Alexander Petrov (aka Alexander Mishkin) flew in from Moscow for a two-day trip. The men, both suspected of being Russian military intelligence officers, are suspected of being involved in the poisonings along with a third Russian officer.

Dawn Sturgess poisoned with perfume

6. Dawn Sturgess, poisoned in England (2018)

Dawn Sturgess, a homeless woman, died after reportedly spraying her wrists with a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle laced with Novichok. Sturgess’ boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, said he found the perfume in a public place but struggled to recall the detail. Authorities believe the bottle was left behind by the Russian agents suspected in the Skripal poisonings in nearby Salisbury, England.

7. Putin critic Alexei Navalny, poisoned in Russia (2020)

Putin’s fiercest critic fell ill while traveling and was hospitalized in Siberia. He was later airlifted to Berlin where he remained in an induced coma for weeks. In September 2020, the German government confirmed Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok chemical agent in an attack they described as 'shocking'.

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