The person who understands the effects of novichoks best is Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist and later head of Foreign Technical Counterintelligence at the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) in Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s, which allegedly produced the shadowy class of binary nerve agents known as the “novichoks” (newcomers). And he has a message for Skripal and his daughter: my bad.
“I’d tell him [Skripal] that I’m very sorry that I participated in the development of these weapons,” Mirzayanov told The Daily Beast.
GosNIIOKhT scientists developed the agents under a program codename “Folio” beginning in the 1980s. Mirzayanov spoke out about the covert program as the Soviet Union fell, earning him a prison term at home before he escaped to exile in the United States.
During the Cold War, the idea that a novichok agent would be used in a covert assassination seemed alien to Mirzayanov and his fellow scientists. The weapons, developed in intense secrecy by Soviet scientists, were originally designed for use in bombs and shells on a battlefield rather than a cloak-and-dagger assassination in a suburb in southern England.
“I couldn’t imagine. No one could imagine. It’s outrageous. We were convinced at the time that we were developing these weapons and testing others for the protection of the country and for defense,” Mirzayanov said. “It was not our goal. None of the scientists supposed that it would be used with terrorist goals. It was a military thing. It was a weapon for mass killing.”