What is Novichok, the nerve agent used on former Russian spy and his daughter?

As British leaders demanded an explanation Monday from Russia on the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter earlier this month with a Russian-made nerve agent in southern, England, Moscow refused to respond to the accusation Tuesday, unless it received a sample of the toxic substance.

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"Russia is ready to cooperate in accordance with the convention to ban chemical weapons if the United Kingdom will deign to fulfill its obligations according to the same convention," Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference Tuesday, according to Gizmodo, even as Lavrov denied Russia was involved in the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

“Russia is not responsible,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, in an address to Parliament Monday, identified the nerve agent used in the poisoning as the Russian-made Novichok, and gave Moscow 24 hours to explain the attack on the former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England.

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"Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, and I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures we will take in response," May said in her address, according to The New York Times.

What is Novichok?

-The nerve agent Novichok, which means “newcomer” in Russian, is one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed.

-It was reportedly created and produced in top secret labs by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, at the end of the Cold War.

-Novichok is actually a class of agents that was reportedly developed to get around the Chemical Weapons Treaty, according to Science Direct. The engineers changed the chemical structure to create a new agent that was not subject to chemical treaties, the website reported.

-The Novichok agents were created to be undetectable by standard detection equipment.

Credit: Andrew Matthews

Credit: Andrew Matthews

-The toxin is generally dispersed as a fine powder, rather than a gas or vapor.

-Exposure usually occurs through inhalation, but it can also be absorbed through the skin or mucous membrane.

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-It’s a fast-acting poison that usually affects the victim in under two minutes, leading to respiratory or cardiac arrest.

-There is an antidote for Novichok agents, but the nerve toxins can cause permanent injury.

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