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Novichok nerve agents were used in 1995 killing, ex-Russian agent says

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By Galina Polonskaya
Vladimir Koshelev
Vladimir Koshelev   -   Copyright  EURONEWS

An earlier, less toxic version of the Novichok nerve agent believed to have been used in an attack in Salisbury, England, was allegedly employed in the assassination of a banker in Moscow, a former senior Russian intelligence official told Euronews.

Ivan Kivelidi, a senior banker who headed Russia's business round table, died in 1995 after being poisoned by what was until now an unidentified substance.

"It was one of its first versions, the base for Novichok, less toxic," said Vladimir Koshelev, a former officer in the GRU military intelligence agency who is now a colonel in its reserves. UK authorities believe a poison from the Novichok programme, a chemical weapons project begun in the Soviet era, was used in last week's attempted killing of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal.

Kivelidi's death was the result of "a drop, a milligram divided by 10, [that] was placed onto his phone," Koshelev told Euronews in an interview in Moscow. He added that despite the nerve agent being less potent than subsequent versions, not only was the target killed, but so was his secretary and the pathologist who examined the body.

That assassination was carried out by a criminal gang, Koshelev noted, asking whether the British authorities had fully considered the possibility of a similar scenario in the attack on Sergei Skripal, which left the Russian former spy and his daughter in a critical condition in hospital.

Koshelev, who worked at the GRU when Skripal was unmasked as a double agent working for the British, cautioned against assuming Russian state involvement in the killing simply because of the poison used.

"If, hypothetically of course, we imagine that Skripal was eliminated with an Kalashnikov assault rifle, it would also be an excuse to say that Russia did it because Kalashnikov assault rifles are manufactured at the [Russian] Tula or Izhevsk plants. But it smells like idiocy, of which our enemies are capable," Koshelev said.