Vil S. Mirzayanov
AN INSIDER’S CHRONICLE OF THE RUSSIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAM
I am dedicating this book with love to my children
Elena, Iskander and Sultan
This book, while autobiographical and in many places entirely personal in character, is also a firsthand chronicle about the secrets of chemical weapons development in the Soviet Union and in Russia. I worked as a chemist for more than 26 years in the premier center for the development of chemical agents in the Soviet Union – GOSNIIOKhT (State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology), during its major developmental period and the pinnacle of its bloom. As an insider in the military chemical complex, I witnessed and participated actively in the laboratory research, development, testing and mass production of modern Russian chemical weapons. Like hundreds of other scientists, I gave my work my best effort, applying all of my energy and capabilities, in order to make sure that these weapons were powerful and effective.
The ruling Communist elite spared nothing – neither resources nor people – to ensure success for its military chemical complex. In order to maintain the highest level of secrecy, in 1974 the Central Committee of CPSU placed this entire complex with all of its scientists, engineers and workers, entirely beyond the bounds of the laws and regulations existing at that time, pretending that it didn’t exist. This deprived everyone working under the regime of any elementary rights to defend their own interests. This was a hypocritical effort to create an image of a USSR which was outside of the chemical arms race. That was allegedly solely the activity of the Western aggressors.
For a long time Russia simply reproduced the chemical weapons of Western countries; however, in the beginning of the 1970s Russian scientist Petr Kirpichev and his team created a new class of chemical agents which are many times more lethal than anything known up to this time. Moreover, the chemical agent known to us as A-232 was not a traditional phosphoorganic nerve agent of known structure. For that purpose, GOSNIIOKhT expressly synthesized a pesticide with an analogous structure. This opened up the possibility of using agricultural chemicals as components of binary weapons. Russia profited from this deception and set traps during the time of negotiations of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), especially in connection with the advancement of their binary weapons program. When two relatively harmless components react with each other during the flight of a rocket and produce a deadly chemical agent, the binary weapon eliminates most of the expense and danger of the production and storage of chemical agents. It also makes them extremely difficult to monitor and control.
Even when the CWC was being negotiated, Russia secretly and persistently pressed forward with its program of development and testing of the new class of binary chemical agents under the code name Novichok, which means “newcomer” in Russian. According to the Wyoming Accord, both the United States and Russia were required to declare their stores of chemical weapons, but Russia lied about the quantity stockpiled and has never acknowledged the Novichok program to this day.
As a scientist and as a human being, I went through a long soul searching process and came to the heart wrenching realization that not only were chemical weapons useless for the country’s defense, but their main purpose is the mass slaughter of civilians. I could not bear to continue to participate in the deception of the world community by Russia’s ruling class. They just wanted to exploit the loopholes written into the CWC in order to destroy their old and useless chemical weapons, while trying to keep the development and stockpiling of new deadly binary weapons a secret.
Even though the concept of Democracy was beginning to catch on fire in Russia, nothing was fundamentally changing. I became involved with the Democratic Movement at my institute and tried to persuade people to stop producing chemical agents, and I appealed to the Moscow’s Mayor Gavril Popov, but there were no results. Reluctantly at first, then resolutely, I became a whistleblower. Even now, after all I went through, I do not regret this. If I hadn’t spoken up, who would have? Probably no one in the rest of the world would have known about Novichok.
I appealed to the world community to pay attention to this problem in my first article published in the Moscow newspaper Kuranty in 1991, but there was no reaction. Then two more articles appeared in September of 1992 issues of Moscow News and The Baltimore Sun which resulted in my arrest for “divulging state secrets”. This was the beginning of my persecution by the Federal Service of Security of Russia – the successor to the KGB. These actions of the Chekists ignited a firestorm of protest in Russia and abroad, preventing the customary reprisals against dissidents. Still, in the year and a half that followed my first arrest and time spent in Lefortovo Prison, the investigation dragged on, and I was prevented from leaving Moscow, except under special approved circumstances. At first the authorities found they could not properly prosecute me, because all the previous laws on state secrecy passed out of existence, when the Soviet Union split up. A new and retroactive decree was drawn up, with the goal of prosecuting me and doling out exemplary punishment for the publication of an article without any technical or state secrets. My case went to trial. It was a secret trial, and no observers were permitted. After the first day in this kangaroo court, I decided I could not ethically allow myself to continue to participate in my own trial. Once more I was arrested and sent for a month to Matrosskaya Tishina, a maximum security prison with a nasty reputation. Ultimately the decision rested in the hands of the Attorney General of Russia, who dropped my case for lack of corpus delicti.
In the end, the Chekists’ investigation of my case played out badly for them. They attached more than 60 secret and top secret documents, related to the development of chemical weapons in Russia, to my case for the indictment. I copied these out legally during my study of the case materials in the Russian equivalent of the discovery process. Fifty one of them are attached to this book in the Annexes. From these documents it is possible to get some idea of how the Novichok program for the development of binary chemical weapons was going in the Soviet Union, then in Russia.
After his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and Russia’s signing of the Agreement on the Nonproduction and Elimination of Chemical Weapons (CWC) on September 23, 1989, by Edward Shevardnadze, Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of Soviet Union and First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU signed Resolution no 844-186 of the Central Committee of CPSU and Council of Ministers of USSR on October 6, 1989, sanctioning the start up of the binary weapons program. Already a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Gorbachev on April 23, 1991 awarded the Lenin Prize to the leaders of the military chemical complex for the successful development, testing and production of these arms. Despite the fall of the Communist regime, the Novichok program continued up until the end of 1992, and possibly after that.
Despite of my revelations and the ratification of the CWC by Russia, the Novichok program was not put under international control, and agents A-230, A-232 and their precursors and the binary components are not on the list of controlled compounds of CWC. This is very troubling because there are no guarantees that Russia isn’t continuing such secret programs. These are all extremely compelling reasons for amending the CWC to include these chemicals, but nothing has been done about it. I am sure I am not the only person who has noticed that these loopholes that were written into the CWC could very well have been built in intentionally.