Nerve agent affair had connection with Estonia

PHOTO: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Scanpix

According to claims by the scientist involved in the development of the Novichok nerve agent in the USSR, a criminal from Latvia, later arrested in Estonia, had been among those buying the toxin from him in the 1990s.

PHOTO: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images/Scanpix

The chemist Leonid Rink told the Russian media last week that he had worked in a state-owned laboratory on the closed town of Shihan for 27 years, developing and producing the infamous Novichok nerve agent. This had been part of his doctor’s dissertation.

According to the UK, this toxin developed in the former Soviet Union had been used in the recent attack on the former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Skripal, 66, found guilty in Russia of spying for the UK and later expelled there, and his daughter Julia, 33, were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4.

Russia has denied any involvement in the chemical attack in the UK as well as the very development of the nerve agent in the USSR. Leaders of the EU countries have expressed their strong conviction that Russia was behind the attack.

The claims by Leonid Rink published in the press also confirm that the nerve agent was developed in the Soviet Union. The chemist had admitted in an investigation carried out in Russia in the early 2000s that he had sold Novichok to criminals in Moscow in the 1990s.

According to the chemist, he had smuggled the toxin out of the laboratory to sell it to criminals and earn a lot of money.  He wanted 1,500-1,800 dollars for one vial of poison. This tiny amount could have killed hundreds of people. The chemist claimed to0 have held eight or nine vials with the toxin in his garage.

Rink’s testimony also reveals a surprising connection with Estonia: he claims to have sold the very toxin in the mid-1990s to Artur Talanov – a criminal residing in Latvia, who later received a suspended sentence at the Pärnu county court in Estonia.

The Pärnu county court charged the former Soviet army officer and his two accomplices of attempted robbery with the use of violence posing harm to life. Talanov was further charged with the illegal possession, carrying and transporting of a firearm.

The events leading to conviction began in mid-May 1996, when four Latvian residents were on their way to Estonia to deposit a large sum of money in Hansapank. They were traveling in two cars: the money was in the leading Mazda, while armed guards were in the following Subaru. The weapons were left behind at the border, according to the law.

When the convoy has covered some 15 kilometers after crossing the border, a masked man in a parked Lada opened fire at the Mazda. The car turned back to seek for help. The criminals, who had been waiting in two cars, also opened fire at the Subaru.

The guards in Subaru told the court that they had been forced to stop and hide behind their vehicle.  Suddenly the masked Talanov emerged from the Lada, but dropped his handgun. One of the security guards seized the weapon and shot him; the wounded Talanov fell by the roadside. His accomplice managed to drive away.

Talanov’s injuries from the hit were severe enough to cripple him for life. According to the court documents, the bullet missed his heart by seven centimeters, ripped up his intestines and damaged his spine.

The ex-officer described the moment as follows: “I could not breathe and felt like fainting. I pulled the mask off, at that moment I did not care about being recognized.”

The Pärnu County Court found Talanov guilty in 1997 and handed him a seven-year suspended sentence with three-year probation.

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