Tests have confirmed that Alexei Navalny, the prominent Russian opposition leader who fell ill on an internal flight in Russia in August was poisoned using Novichok.
Novichok is a very rare, military grade nerve agent used in chemical weapons. It is also the agent used in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England in March 2018, an which an attack which left one other person dead and three critically ill.
Novichok is one of a series of chemical weapons developed by the Soviet Union and Russia between 1971 and 1993. Russian scientists who developed the nerve agent claim it is the deadliest ever made, with some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX and others up to ten times more potent than 'Soman', both potent battle field weapons prohibited under international conventions.
Russia is experiencing regular popular protests against the rule of President Putin and at the same time neighbouring Balarus is suffering serious political turmoil following what are widely regarded as rigged Presidential elections. The timing of the poisoning of Mr Navalny, the focal point of the Russian popular opposition, is far from inconvenient for the Kremlin. The fact that it is now know that a Russian produced military grade nerve agent, of the same type known to have been used by the Russian State in other such incidents, must surely fuel popular opposition to Putin, not reduce it.