The evidence that is publicly available thus supports the explanation that the Novichoks story originated as a counter-intelligence operation rather than a real chemical weapons programme. If this was the case, the operation has backfired by creating a situation in which incidents in which these “fourth generation agents” are detected are blamed on Russia. The success of efforts to eliminate the stockpiling of chemical weapons, together with establishment of international mechanisms to detect and report on any use of such weapons, may have had the unintended consequence of facilitating operations that attribute the possession or use of chemical weapons to an adversary.
It is clear that both the US and Russian governments are withholding information about their own studies of these compounds. The US Department of Defense has removed public records that these compounds were studied at Edgewood Arsenal in the mid-1990s, and refuses to reveal the results of in vivo toxicity studies. Russian officials have not denied that these compounds were studied at bench scale, but have not provided any explanation of the purportedly top secret documents made available to Mirzayanov in 1993.
The publication of the structures of A-232 and A-234 in 2008 would have laid the basis for them to be used to lay a trail pointing to Russia, whoever was the perpetrator. If the Novichoks story was originally a disinformation operation, it has backfired some 25 years later to cause serious damage to Russia’s relations with western countries. For Russia to counter this, a first step would be to publish a complete account of Russian research on these compounds, including any in vivo toxicity studies.The Novichoks story: chemical weapons programme or canary trap?