There were new developments in the saga of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia’s Novichok nerve agent story.
The Express, in an article released on November 1st, claimed to reveal the “true nature of the secret “closed” town in Russia where the killer Novichok nerve agent used in the Salisbury attacks was manufactured.”
The city of Shikhany is located 500 miles south-east of Moscow and the welcoming entry sign reads “the Town of Chemists.”
According to the Express, that is precisely where the Novichok that failed to assassinate Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was produced.
According to the outlet, even Russians need to be applied for official passes to visit the town and foreigners are completely banned. Despite that, by simply using a car with local number plates an investigation team drove past the police checkpoint and into the middle of town.
The outlet continues describing the town as bustling with military activity and only members of the military live in it. The town is apparently made up of three separate settlements – Shikhany 1, 2 and 4. The existence of 3 is currently unknown.
The journalists reportedly drove up to the gates of Sikhany 2, where chemists, “some of the most brilliant minds in the world of science, developed Novichok in the 1970s.”
Despite only military personnel living in the cities, a civilian sitting at a bus stop allegedly told the reporters: “This is still a closed town. Even people who live and work in the town do not know about all the goings-on here. Some of it was top secret.”
The Express further said that the town still has a statue of Lenin and streets are named after Soviet war heroes in an attempt to show this as something, which is worth to note. Meanwhile, this is a common thing across Russia and multiple post-Soviet states/
According to the Express, Novichok is not made there anymore, but it could be stored here, or elsewhere in Russia.
“The Russian authorities realise it is such a potent weapon they have kept stocks for use for such difficult missions such as the attempt to murder the Skripals,” the Express wrote.
Mayor Andrei Tatarinov denied his town had anything to do with the Skripal attack. He said: “Claims that Novichok was manufactured here, in Shikhany, are absurd. We perceive it as a lie, as a hoax.”
After allegedly being “pressed” about chemical weapons, he conceded: “The lab used to be involved in their development but there were no chemical weapons depots here.”
British expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former NATO commander, said:
“I’m very surprised you managed to get in to Shikhany and I’m even more surprised you managed to get out. There is no doubt that Shikhany was where novichok was produced. It’s their Porton Down. Laboratories in Shikhany were destroyed as recently as April. They were flattened. Nobody knows where the novichok is now. As the East-West confrontation hots up chemical weapons become more and more important to use in towns and cities. Novichok is a super weapon of mass destruction. And Russia has the better capability. Russia’s capability is frightening and novichok is a frightening weapon. Salisbury still hasn’t been cleaned up yet – and that’s just one quarter of an egg cup full, that’s how lethal it is.”
Unnamed British intelligence chiefs cited by the Express claimed that they have evidence that Shikhany is indeed the place Novichok was created.
But Mayor Tatarinov has insisted all the work here now is for civil purposes. He said he hoped the city’s future lay in the production of fertilizers and similar chemicals.
Russia also announced that Shikhany would cease to be a closed town as of 2019. The Mayor declared that he was planning to register a trademark for locally manufactured household chemicals. Its name? Novichok.
Also on November 1st, the Daily Mirror interviewed Victoria Skripal, Sergei’s 45-year old niece. She had the following to say:
“This has been an absolute horror story for all the Skripal family. We are worn out, we are tired, we are exhausted. Our life is a nightmare. I still don’t know what happened to uncle Sergei and my cousin. I can’t believe the Russians were behind it though – no one could be that unprofessional. The guys that the media are saying carried out the attack were idiots. All we want to find out is the truth. I want to hear my uncle’s voice again.”
According to the outlet, she believes that she may be on a “GRU hitlist,” because she “refuses to remain silent.” In October, she and her husband were driving on the main highway from their home in the regional city of Yarolsavl to Moscow when their car suddenly careered out of control, for no apparent reason. Viktoria said: “It’s certainly a possibility something suspicious happened to the car. We were pretty shaken but just pleased to be alive.”
The conspiracy goes even deeper, according to the Daily Mirror, Yulia Skripal’s significant other – Stepan, apparently worked for an organization called the Institute of Modern Security Problems. His mother Tatiana was head of the unit, which is allegedly an “integral part” of the FSB – “which replaced the KGB secret service.” Stepan has reportedly not been seen since the incident, according to unnamed friends of the couple, cited by the outlet.
On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement warning of a new wave of Novichok allegations ahead of the incoming OPCW meeting. It also once more reiterated that Russia has never developed, produced or stored any toxic chemical codenamed Novichok.
“It catches the eye that publications of new insinuations by Western media almost fully coincide with the release of the OPCW plan to hold additional consultations, during which a well-known group of nations would try to solve their external political talks, which fully contradict the basic provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the principles, enshrined in it,” the ministry said.
Furthermore, the foreign ministry said that the new wave of rumors of an alleged “secret city” that produces Novichok was made public shortly after Washington threatened to impose new sanctions on Moscow.
“We view such tactics as irresponsible and will actively resist it. The ongoing attempts by Western nations to erode the integrity of the CWC and the unity within OPCW must be stopped,” it stated.
TASS cited Russian diplomats who said that Russia had honored all international commitments to destroys all of its chemical weapons ahead of schedule, under strict CWC control.
“The aim of the ongoing information attacks is clear – to distract the public attention from the real facts of programs, ran by high-techn chemical labs of Western nations, to create at least a hundred of chemical substances related to Novichok, as well as the issuance of patents related to the use of chemical weapons of this kind and protection against them, for example in the US,” the ministry said.