Skripal poisoning: Czech government confirms it tested Novichok-type agent | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.05.2018
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Skripal poisoning: Czech government confirms it tested Novichok-type agent

The Czech government has confirmed a claim by President Milos Zeman that the country tested a type of Novichok nerve agent. The agent tested, however, was not the same as the one used to poison an ex-spy in the UK.

The Czech Republic's Military Research Institute in Brno (picture-alliance/CTK/I. Zehl)

The Czech president said the military tested a Novichok agent at this military center in the city of Brno

The Czech Republic said on Friday that it had processed minuscule amounts of nerve agents belonging to the Novichok type, but added that they were different from the one used to poison a former Russian double agent in the United Kingdom.

"Substances referred to as 'Novichok' in the press, among them the A230 substance, are potential poisonous chemical substances, whose identification ... is part of the training of Czech anti-chemical military units," the Defense Ministry said.

"The tested substance originates in a tube solely for the purpose of measuring spectral data and the content is always immediately destroyed after testing, in line with regulations and the Czech Republic's commitments," it added. "The probability of a leak, therefore, equals zero."

Read more: Chemical watchdog OPCW meets over Skripal nerve agent case

Different from Novichok used in UK

The Czech Foreign Ministry said separately that A230 was different from the A234 agent used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury in early March. It also said Czech scientists had tested A230 through "micro-synthesis," a process it said is not considered production according to international conventions.

The British government has repeatedly accused Russia of using a type of Novichok, which it said was developed by the Soviet Union, to poison the Skripals. Russia has dismissed the allegation and said the Novichok agent could have originated in other European countries, including the Czech Republic.

The Czech government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis has vehemently denied that accusation and voiced its support for the UK. In March, it expelled three Russian diplomats as part of a broader set of expulsions by EU and NATO countries.

Read more: Russia's Sergey Lavrov claims Sergei Skripal was poisoned with Western BZ nerve agent

Czech president's interview

But Russia said on Thursday there was proof the Czech Republic had produced Novichok after the country's pro-Russian president, Milos Zeman, said Novichok agents were produced at a military research center in November 2017.

"The Czech Republic produced and tested Novichok, though in a small amount, and then destroyed it," Zeman said in an interview on Barrandov, a Czech television station, late on Thursday.

Zeman referred in his interview to reports by the Czech Republic's military spy agency, which according to him showed the country produced A230 at a military research center in the city of Brno.

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OPCW weighs in

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Zeman had "acted honestly and courageously" by "officially recognizing and revealing this information." Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Zeman's interview was "a new confirmation that the entire Skripal story is an absolute provocation."

OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu told The New York Times on Thursday that about 50 to 100 grams of liquid nerve agent were used to poison the Skripals. That amount, he added, was far greater than the amount countries would produce for research purposes.

The OPCW however corrected Uzumcu on Friday. In a statement, the organization said the estimated amount of nerve agent used should be measured in milligrams rather than grams. It also said it would not be able to estimate the amount of the nerve agent used.

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