A Russian scientist told state media Tuesday he worked on an official program to produce the nerve agent Britain says was used against ex-spy Sergei Skripal, contradicting Moscow’s claims it never developed Novichok. Leonid Rink, who told RIA Novosti he worked on a state-backed program up to the early 1990s, added that the former double agent and his daughter would be dead had Moscow been involved in his poisoning.
“They are still alive. That means that either it was not the Novichok system at all, or it was badly concocted, carelessly applied,” he said in the interview. “Or straight after the application, the English used an antidote, in which case they would have had to have known exactly what the poison was,” he said. Rink said he worked at a state laboratory in the closed town of Shikhan for 27 years, where the development of Novichok formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation.
“A large group of specialists in Shikhan and Moscow worked on ‘Novichok’,” he said. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week said Moscow never had any programs to develop the chemical weapon. “I want to state with all possible certainty that the Soviet Union or Russia had no programs to develop a toxic agent called Novichok,” he said.
The foreign ministry told news agents on Tuesday this remained its position. London and its allies say Russia was behind the attempted assassination in the English city of Salisbury, but Moscow has angrily denied any involvement. Russian politicians have suggested the poisoning was part of a Western plot to whip up anti-Russian sentiment ahead of the presidential election at the weekend or the World Cup.