On November 28th 2019, as a consequence of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) updated its Chemical Weapons Convention and added Novichok type nerve agents to the list of banned chemical weapons:

After months of wrangling, the 24th conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) agreed on Nov. 28 to update the list of Schedule 1 chemicals banned by the treaty to include the advanced nerve agents known as Novichok.

Novichok was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War years before the CWC entered into force in 1997. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that it was used in the attempted assassination of Russian spy-turned-double-agent Sergei Skripal in 2018.

(See here for the full article from the Arms Control Association).

However, Novichok has been used again to kill or injure, in the recent poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. As is well known, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly condemned Russia:

Angela Merkel said there was "shocking information" that showed "beyond a doubt" that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was "an attempted murder with nerve agent" after a toxicology test in Germany showed that the opposition leader had been targeted with Novichok.

Merkel said Navalny was "the victim of a crime intended to silence him." She said the gravity of that fact made it important for her to "take a clear stance."

The chancellor said the case raises "very serious questions that only the Russian government can answer — and must answer," adding, "the world will wait for an answer."

Regarding Merkel's comment "The chancellor said the case raises "very serious questions that only the Russian government can answer — and must answer," adding, "the world will wait for an answer.". I can imagine that there are only three possibilities over the Navalny poisoning, and these are the questions that Merkel - and the rest of the world - wants answered:

  1. Novichok was manufactured or stored by the Russian state, and they were responsible for its use after it had been banned: i.e. the state officially sanctioned the attempted murder and was responsible for its use against Navalny.

  2. Novichok was manufactured or stored by the Russian state and unsanctioned actors have been able to obtain and subsequently use it against Navalny, and the Russian state failed to prevent it.

  3. Novichok was manufactured and deployed by unsanctioned actors, and the Russian state has failed to prevent its manufacture and use.

All three of these possibilities raise serious concerns about the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, so my question is: what action, if any, will signatories to the CPC take in response to another use of a nerve agent classified as a chemical weapon banned by the treaty?

The CPC in Article IX allows for inspections and in article XII allows for a series of measures against non-compliant States, including sanctions and the referral of the use of chemical weapons to the United Nations Security Council, but have there been any calls for that so far, as the nerve agent is Russian, the victim was Russian and it's use was on Russian soil? Does that have a bearing on the response ? Will there be an investigation into Russia about the proliferation and use of banned chemical weapons following the Navalny poisoning?

  • Roman Shleynov, Novichok has already killed, OCCRP, April 10, 2018. Sep 3, 2020 at 13:40
  • 2
    I think its a perfectly valid question. I was surprised to read that Novichok wasn't already on the list. You might want to make it a bit less open ended though, because asking about hypothetical outcomes is off-topic. Although it is not proven to be an action by the Russian state, unless there is a lot more transparency from their side it is more than likely based on past performance. Questions on SE shouldn't require definitive proof, since this would disallow about half the questions, and most of the interesting ones. Sep 3, 2020 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


What are the implications of the poisoning of Alexey Navalny with respect to the proliferation and use of banned chemical weapons?

Implications emboldened below.

Why Putin deliberately uses Novichok to poison his enemies, even though it often fails to kill them

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to use the infamous Novichok nerve agent to poison his enemies precisely because the nerve agent can be linked to the Russian security services, according to two intelligence officials who have investigated Russian operations in the past.


"Despite a surprisingly poor track record thus far, Novichok is an effective, deadly poison that has the added benefit of everyone knowing Vladimir Putin wants you dead," one NATO intelligence official told Insider.

The official declined to be named because they do not have permission to speak to the press, but their identity is known to Insider.

"In the case of Navalny, it is obvious that Putin wanted him dead in Siberia under mysterious circumstances," the official said. "But alive in Berlin with Novichok poisoning is almost as good: Navalny knows Putin wants him dead, was willing to use Novichok and didn't care that anyone would realize he was behind it."

  • This raises more questions. Surely at some point actions will be taken to curb Putin's megalomania that will have really serious consequences for Russia ? Sep 3, 2020 at 17:45
  • Novichok is a deadly poison, a drop of it will kill anybody. Yet none of the three people who have allegedly were poisoned by it died. Sep 4, 2020 at 12:14
  • @dan-klasson - Please read the Wikipedia article, Novichok agent. There are various formulations (11 are listed) that fall under the name Novichok. Not all variations are necessarily, immediately fatal. Treatments are available, but the result of surviving can be lasting medical issues.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 4, 2020 at 13:06
  • But in your "answer" you quote NATO officers claiming Putin wants him dead. Are you saying Putin is not only stupid, but also incompetent? Sep 4, 2020 at 13:09
  • @dan-klasson - I am not saying anything about Putin. Re-read the last quoted paragraph. Surviving for a few days before death could be passed off as mysterious circumstances; but Navalny didn't die.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 4, 2020 at 13:33

Here's my answer, but it's really just a collection of thoughts for someone with more knowledge to build on:

What action, if any, will the signatories take

  • The brazen way with which these agents have been deployed demonstrates the impotence of the OPCW. It is possible that it will be restructured, or superseded.

  • Direct interference is unlikely, not least because Putin still enjoys considerable support among the Russian population, and this would only help him to maintain his domination by creating fear of the other. Putin's support is waning though, which could explain the timing of these events, however there have been many such attacks on political opponents over the last few years, so in itself this doesn't demonstrate an emergent weakness that could be taken advantage of.

  • Article XII basically says that in the event of non-compliance, the parties can take a grievance to the UN General Assembly or Security Council. Since Russia has a veto on the S.C. this would be a waste of time. In my opinion, such an action would only serve to demonstrate the U.N.'s impotence.

  • The suspension of Russia's membership of the G8 may be compounded, with further international isolation in trade and travel. The nuclear option would be to cut them off from SWIFT. Sanctions and travel bans against individuals with connections to the poisoning, or the Russian state are possible, for example under the U.S. Maginistky Act or the U.K.'s new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations.

  • NATO may deploy more military to Eastern Europe, and show a greater level of support to ex-Soviet states such as Ukraine.

  • The fact that Navalny was flown to Germany could turn out to have been a cleverly calculated move. Based on many past actions, in particular their support for the Nord Stream II pipeline, Germany has proven to be one of Russia's most loyal partners in Europe. The physical presence of Navalny may generate enough domestic publicity to change this. The pipeline, which circumvents the need to send Russian gas via Ukraine is hugely important for Russia. This is not some normal private business venture, as is clear from the fact that the Chairman of Nord Stream AG is none other than ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Germany may attach conditions to continued support for completion and operation of the pipeline.

Does the fact that it was a intra-state action have a bearing on the response?

  1. Not according to the convention, which in simple terms just says that you shouldn't make or use these agents, however it will have a bearing on which countries get involved in the investigation. Public opinion will likely determine what happens next in this regard.

Will there be an investigation into Russia about the proliferation and use of banned chemical weapons following the Navalny poisoning?

  • Based on previous poisonings of this nature, it is likely that an investigation will be carried out, in this case, owing to the current location of Navalny, it will most likely be done by the E.U. or Germany. If this is successful, one could at least expect a few individuals to be sanctioned at some point in the next couple of years.
  • thanks for the answer, it does cover a lot of points. The Nord Stream 2 angle is the obvious place to look for what the immediate consequences of the poisoning will be. NS2 is vitally important for Gazprom's future; its not critically important for Germany; there is more enough LNG capacity and alternatives to make up for its loss. Added to this is the American pressure, quite explicit comments from Pompeo, pressuring Germany to abandon NS2. I don't think Merkel is holden to NS2, and as events develop it'll be interesting to see the outcome. I'll reflect on your other points too. Sep 3, 2020 at 20:02

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