What is Novichok? The toxicologist: it is a plausible hypothesis that it was used to kill Navalny


By John

A Novichok agent to kill Alexei Navalny? “Without having access to the body it is impossible to say,” Sabina Strano-Rossi, associate professor in Forensic Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Catholic University of Rome and president of the Italian Forensic Toxicologists Group, tells ANSA.

Novichok are nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union starting in the 1970s.

«They were developed as a chemical weapon and classified, we don’t know much about them», explains Strano-Rossi. «They are similar, in terms of mechanism of action, to some pesticides: they act by increasing the effect of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. However, they are much more powerful.” A few milligrams, the equivalent of a few drops, are enough to have lethal effects. The hypothesis that it was one of these agents who killed Alexei Navalny does not tally with the first reports of his death, in which the Russian authorities referred to “thrombosis” or “sudden death syndrome”.

«Poisoning from these substances has very characteristic symptoms: a strong production of saliva, the so-called pin-shaped pupils, muscle fasciculations with strong contractions up to strong convulsions, breathing difficulties, collapse», explains Strano-Rossi. However, the latest testimonies refer to bruises on Navalny’s body which could have been caused by a containment action due to convulsions. At the moment these are hypotheses.

“We will certainly find out who exactly and in what precise way carried out the crime,” said Yulia Navalnaya, accusing the Russian authorities of hiding the body while waiting for traces of the poisoning to disappear. “These agents may no longer be detectable in biological samples, but we don’t know much about the time it takes for this to happen,” concludes Strano-Rossi.