Germany obtained novichok nerve agent sample in 1990s, reports say

Politics

Development could help explain how Britain was able to analyse poison it says was used to attack former double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter

The West’s knowledge of the novichok nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter came from a sample smuggled to Germany in the 1990s, local media reports.

Britain blamed Russia for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed its analysis.

More than 20 Western countries expelled Russian diplomats over the issue, in the biggest expulsion since the Cold War.

In a joint report, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the weekly Die Zeit and broadcasters NDR and WDR said Germany’s BND spy agency had secured the sample of novichok from a Russian scientist.

The sample was taken to Sweden for analysis and the chemical formula given to the German government and military, the report said, citing sources.

Western countries used the information to help develop countermeasures.

The story could help explain how Britain was able to analyse the poison it said was used to attack the Skripals in Salisbury in March.

Moscow has denied blame for the attack and accused London of not being forthcoming in how it investigated the poisoning.

“The finding about a class of weapons known as novichok developed in the former Soviet Union largely stems from a previously unknown secret operation of the BND,” a summary of the German news organisations’ joint report said.

It said it was unclear what had become of the sample, and said the Swedish government had said it could not provide information about the process on short notice. The BND also declined to comment on the report.

A spokesman for the German defence ministry said the military researched how to protect against chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear weapons materials, in accordance with international law, but could not provide details so as to safeguard members of the military and the German population.

“This includes the question about which substances are being researched and the availability of these materials,” a ministry spokesman said. “As a result, statements and assertions about this are not confirmed, denied or commented on.”

The German media report said the BND had informed the US and British intelligence agencies about the case following the analysis, and small amounts of the poison were later produced in several Nato member states to test Western protective gear, testing equipment and antidotes.

Mr Skripal remains in hospital in Salisbury, where his condition is said to be improving and he is no longer in a critical condition.

His daughter was discharged last month and is recovering at an undisclosed location.

Investigators are yet to identify who carried out the poisoning, the national security adviser told MPs earlier this month.