Accessibility links

Breaking News

A Timeline Of Russia's Changing Story On Skripal Poisoning

Members of the emergency services in biohazard suits place a tent over the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious after being exposed to what Britain says was the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England, on March 4.
Members of the emergency services in biohazard suits place a tent over the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious after being exposed to what Britain says was the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England, on March 4.

Since the poisoning of the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4 in England, Russian officials have been consistent about one thing: Moscow didn't do it.

Otherwise, they have offered a hodgepodge of theories, evasions, and refutations to parry British accusations that a Soviet-era nerve agent was likely used to poison Skripal and his daughter.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who betrayed numerous Russian agents to Britain. He and his daughter continue to fight for their lives after they were discovered collapsed on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities have determined that the substance used in the poisonings was part of the Novichok group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military during the 1970s and '80s.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on March 19 that Moscow was "not fooling anyone" with its "increasingly absurd" denials of culpability for use of the nerve agent on British soil.

Speaking to reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Johnson said the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to "conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation."

Here's a timeline of some of the statements by Russian officials and others on the Skripal poisoning affair.

March 13: Too Soon To Say What Poison Was Used

Dmitry Kovtun (left) and Andrei Lugovoi
Dmitry Kovtun (left) and Andrei Lugovoi

"Everything is being rushed in that it was quickly determined what the substance was. But more importantly, that it was allegedly produced in Russia. It's not possible to determine that in a week. That is just impossible," said Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard who later became a member of the Russian parliament, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

A British public inquiry of the murder of former KGB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with radioactive polonium-210, concluded Lugovoi, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Dmitry Kovtun carried out the assassination.

March 13: Novichok Was Stored In Ukraine

A "Ukrainian link" to the Skripal poisoning was offered up by Nikolai Kovalev, a State Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party and a former director of the FSB (from 1996-98).

"Given the fact that all of this [Novichok] was stored on the territory of the republics of the former Soviet Union, then, excuse me, a Ukrainian link can't be ruled out," Kovalev told RIA Novosti.

March 13: Novichok Could Have Been Made Elsewhere

Vil Mirzayanov
Vil Mirzayanov

Military expert Viktor Murakhovsky said Novichok nerve agents could have been produced in any properly equipped chemical laboratory in the world.


Murakhovsky claimed the basic formulas for Novichok were disclosed by Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who had worked for more than 25 years in the Soviet chemical weapons program. Mirzayanov alleged that Moscow had developed a series of new and extremely "third generation" nerve agents under a secret program code-named Foliant.

"He published in his book the formulas for the precursors of this substance. Precursors which, if combined, result in a chemical-warfare agent," said Murakhovsky.

March 13: Russian Chemical Weapons Destroyed

"At present, Russia has destroyed 100 percent of its chemical-weapons stockpiles, which was verified by inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who were at the chemical- weapons disposal sites on an ongoing basis," an unnamed official at the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade told RIA Novosti.

March 14: Russia Destroyed All Soviet-Era Chemical Weapons

Denis Manturov
Denis Manturov

"All our chemical weapons, even those developed by the Soviet Union, have been destroyed, without exception," declared Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov.

March 14: Russia Says Chemical Ban Convention Needs Bolstering

"The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade has consistently called for observance of all the statutes of the convention by signatory governments and is ready to work together with Great Britain and the OPCW," stated a Trade Ministry official.

In an interview with Current Time TV, a project of RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Mirzayanov explained why Russia backs strict observance of the chemical-weapons convention.

"The OPCW, within the framework of the [Chemical Weapons] Convention, can only work with those substances that are listed on its banned list. Novichok is not on the list, and, even if it was, the headquarters of this organization would not have the means to identify this agent/substance."

March 14: London Exploits Skripal Case To Deflect From Pedophile Scandal

A columnist of RIA Novosti accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of exploiting the Skripal poisoning scandal and of pinning blame on Russia to deflect public attention from the Telford child sex-abuse scandal.

"In this case, it doesn't matter whether the Skripals were intentionally poisoned for the sake of the subsequent media campaign or if it was 'just pure luck.' Those who are now proposing 'some kind of overture to Great Britain,' and are very worried about 'how to avoid war,' should understand that it's more than likely that our British opponents are being guided by domestic political logic, and the scandal, regardless of what Russia does, will continue as long as the government of Theresa May needs it to resolve its own internal problems," wrote Ivan Danilov, a RIA Novosti columnist.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia

March 15: Novichok Was Produced By Other States, Stored in Baltics

No research into a substance under the name of Novichok was carried out in Russia, stated Russian OSCE envoy Aleksandr Lukashevich during a meeting of the permanent council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"A few words about toxic substances that should be noted. After chemical weapons were destroyed in the Russian Federation (this was confirmed by the OPCW in 2017), the development [of chemical weapons] continued in Great Britain itself, as well as the U.S.A., the Czech Republic, and Sweden. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, laboratories for the production of the type of chemical agents mentioned remained in a number of states, including the Baltic countries," Lukashevich said.

March 16: Novichok Too Smelly For Stealth

Novichok is characterized by a pungent odor, making it next to impossible to transport it in a suitcase without detection, as British media claim, stated Igor Nikulin, a former chemical-weapons adviser to the UN secretary-general.

"I think its improbable because this substance, unlike sarin gas, is difficult to use without detection. It has a strong and unpleasant odor. Sarin is colorless, odorless. It can be applied without detection. But this substance (Novichok) cannot be used without detection," Nikulin said.

March 17: Novichok? Never Existed In Russia

Maria Zakharova
Maria Zakharova

In Russia, no research into chemical weapons under the code name Novichok was conducted, stated Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

"Never on the territory of the U.S.S.R., not during the time of the Soviet Union or during the time of the Russian Federation, was there any research conducted under the direct name or code name of Novichok," said Zakharova, quoted by TASS.

Zakharova added that the term Novichok was used only in the West. According to Zakharova, London used the word Novichok to stress the link between the poisoning agent and Russia.

March 17: Great Britain, Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic Could Be Novichok Makers

Zakharova listed a number of countries that the Russian Foreign Ministry considers possible sources of Novichok."Great Britain, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. The United States should also be suspected, as well," Zakharova said.

March 18: Timing Of Poisoning Rules Out Russia

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

In his first public remarks on the poisoning, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia "has no such" weapon of the type that Britain says was used in the attack on Skripal and his daughter. Echoing a line pushed by others, Putin said that if Skripal and his daughter had been targeted with a military-grade nerve agent, they would have died on the spot.

Putin also says the timing makes no sense if Russia was the culprit.

"It's complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup," Putin said, adding that "we have destroyed all chemical weapons."

March 19: No Novichok In Russia

The European Commission demands that Russia disclose to the OPCW all information on its Novichok chemical-weapons program. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry says there's nothing to disclose.

"The European Commission ignores the fact that all of Russia's chemical weapons have been destroyed. This was confirmed by the OPCW in 2017. Should this be interpreted as mistrust of the EU and the U.K. in this esteemed international organization? There is nothing to 'disclose' as the EU is demanding [because] no poisonous substances [known as] Novichok are produced or stored in Russia," said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement quoted by state-run Russian media.

March 20: Sweden, Czech Republic Could Produce Novichok

Sergei Ryabkov
Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov again mentions Russia and Sweden as possible sources of Novichok after those countries summon the Russian ambassadors following the earlier accusation.

"It was no accident that Russia said that the United States, Sweden, as well as the Czech Republic have the capabilities to work with such substances, along with Great Britain. We know that our statements have caused an uproar in these countries. But that doesn't alter the fact that these countries specifically have the means for the research and development of this type of material and to synthesize it," Ryabkov said.

March 20: Novichok Article Redacted

Russian scientist Leonid Rink gives an interview to RIA Novosti. He says that he helped create Novichok-series nerve agents. However, the article is later redacted.

In the earlier posted version of the interview, Rink said:

"As a matter of fact, Novichok is not a material. It is the whole system of chemical weapons. The chemical-weapons system adopted by the Soviet Union was called 'Novichok 5.' The title was not used without numbers."

The text was then taken down and edited. In the newer version, Fink said:

"As a matter of fact, in the Soviet Union and Russia there was no program for the development of chemical weapons that was called 'Novichok.' Programs for the development of chemical weapons existed, but not with that title. After any program was completed, it was transferred to the military, and they retitled it. They could choose any name, among them were titles that included the word 'Novichok.'"

Written by Tony Wesolowsky with material from Current Time TV

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.