By: Lt. Col. Tanos, Brazilian Military Institute of Engineering, and Prof. Kuča, University of Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic

“Newcomer” is the translation of the Russian word “novichok” (Новичо́к in Cyrillic). This was the name given to a new kind of chemical weapon supposedly developed in the former Soviet Union between the 1970s and 1990s, with the purpose of cheating the chemical weapons convention (CWC). At least that’s the story told by the Russian defector exiled in the United States Vil S. Mirzayanov in his book titled: “State Secrets: An inside chronicle of the Russian chemical weapons program”, published in 2009 by Outskirts Press, Inc. Rumors about the existence of novichoks, as well as non-conclusive speculations about their actual chemical structures and physical-chemical properties, could already be found before Mirzayanov’s book, in publications from the beginning of this century. However these chemicals only showed up in the headlights after the attempted assassination of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia on UK soil, on February 2018. Once a novichok agent was suspected by the British experts, as the chemical used in this episode, the premier Theresa May accused the Russian Government of involvement, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, not seen since the cold war times. But after all what is there about novichoks to justify such rash reaction? What are the reasons for concern?

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