As attention seemed to rapidly wane concerning the US air and missile strikes in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a stunning announcement, saying that the samples of the nerve agent used on Sergey and Yulia Skripal was not a Novichok agent, but in fact something that NATO codenamed “BZ.” This is a major statement because of what BZ actually is, and what Novichok agents are understood to be.
Novichok agents are highly deadly nerve agents, developed by the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation, during a time period spanning the years 1971 to 1993. The compounds under this program were distinguished in these ways, according to the report on Wikipedia:
- Russian scientists who developed the agents claim they are the deadliest nerve agents made,
- some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX,
- other variants up to ten times more potent than soman.
- They were designed as part of a Soviet program codenamed “FOLIANT”.
- Five Novichok variants are believed to have been adapted for military use.
- The most versatile is A-232 (Novichok-5).
- Novichok agents have never been used on the battlefield.
- Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and many heads of state, said that one such agent was used in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in England in March 2018.
- Russia denies producing or researching agents “under the title Novichok”.
So the upshot of the Novichok agents is their lethality. In fact, one of the developers of this was quoted repeatedly during the earlier days of the Skripal story, pointing out that there is no cure and no preventative or even reparative procedure that is known to be able to stop a Novichok agent from killing its intended victim.
While this is not quite true, the Wiki entry does show that the likelihood of a full recovery to normal living is not at all easy:
“…[N]ovichok agents may cause lasting nerve damage, resulting in permanent disabling of victims, according to Russian scientists. Their effect on humans was demonstrated by the accidental exposure of Andrei Zheleznyakov, one of the scientists involved in their development, to the residue of an unspecified Novichok agent while working in a Moscow laboratory in May 1987.
“He was critically injured and took ten days to recover consciousness after the incident. He lost the ability to walk and was treated at a secret clinic in Leningrad for three months afterwards. The agent caused permanent harm, with effects that included “chronic weakness in his arms, a toxic hepatitis that gave rise to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, spells of severe depression, and an inability to read or concentrate that left him totally disabled and unable to work.”
He never recovered and died in July 1992 after five years of deteriorating health.”
However, Yulia Skripal appears to have recovered, and now Sergey is also in recovery. The Washington Post questioned this in this piece dated April 6th. And the Washington Post is a very liberal paper, but they still ran this piece to try to explain how it is that two people allegedly poisoned by a “no way out” chemical agents are in fact getting better.
The BZ agents are very different in purpose from Novichok.
BZ is known in the chemical field as 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate. This agent is NOT a nerve toxin. It is not a Novichok at all. This agent is referred to as an “incapacitating agent”, which is defined by the US Department of Defense as:
- “An agent that produces temporary physiological or mental effects, or both, which will render individuals incapable of concerted effort in the performance of their assigned duties.”
Such an agent can, of course kill, but for many of its victims who do die, they die because the chemical makes them actually unable tl avoid it.
The concept of “humane warfare” with widespread use of incapacitating or deleriant drugs such as LSD or Agent BZ to stun an enemy, capture them alive, or separate friend from foe had been available in locations such as Berlin since the 1950s, an initial focus of US CBW development was the offensive use of diseases, drugs, and substances that could completely incapacitate an enemy for several days with some lesser possibility of death using a variety of chemical, biological, radiological, or toxin agents.
So, here we have reference to BZ as a specifically non-lethal agent.
Both the Skripals are alive and recovering from an alleged agent that was supposedly inevitably going to kill them.
While this does not give us 100 percent assurance that the Russian Foreign Minister is telling the truth, it certainly pokes major holes in the allegation from the UK that a Russian Novichok agent was used (by order of President Putin, so the story goes).
Mr. Lavrov’s clear declaration of the use of BZ is also much more substantiated than the British allegation is. There is a bigger problem, though.
Both parties may be lying.
While the Russian position is much more thoroughly substantiated, the factor remains that each country has the right to make its own propaganda. What is true is that the British attempt seems to be based more on innuendo, and the initial refusal of the UK to give Russia samples for examination (according to OPCW rules) did not do their side’s cause any favors.
Further, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was citing the results of the examination conducted by a Swiss chemical lab that worked with the samples that London handed over to the Organisation for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Now in fairness, given the hostility of the Western media to all things Russia, it is strongly likely that the Swiss report is being squelched by the editorial staff of the main news sources. This is the worst sort of injustice, however, in so many ways. The Russians are not getting any sort of fair treatment, and have become the scapegoat of all Western ills, which in reality are entirely the result of their own failures on many levels.
But the more alarming effect is that it has become increasingly difficult, almost impossible, to get a true report on major events.
We still do not know who poisoned the Skripals. We do not know why. We do not even know HOW, apparently. The implications of not knowing these things is enormous. It places the society on edge, and keeps it in some state of fear; or worse, indifference. In that indifference, anything, literally anything can happen.