Disinfo: Novichok is a word coined by a British TV series in early 2000


The name Novichok isn’t a Russian name but was taken from a British series broadcast in early 2000, and it has since stuck in people’s heads.


The story advances the recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.

“Novichok” - “Newcomer in English” is a name that was given to a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s in a covert programme codenamed Foliant that was revealed by defectors.

Most of what we understand about Novichok agents comes from the testimony and memoirs of Dr Vil S. Mirzayanov, the Chief of the Department of Counteraction against Foreign Technical Intelligence at the Russian State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) who authored a 1994 report with the Stimson Center describing the state of chemical weapon disarmament in Russia, revealing Novichok's existence.

Following this revelation, the US National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in 1998, added Novichiok to its spectral data which has 300,000 compounds and is regularly updated.

Furthermore, since the beginning of the 1990s, US chemical demilitarization programmes in the Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR) included joint research on Novichoks in order to develop effective detectors, detoxifiers, reactivators and bio-scavengers.

Alas, the name Novichok has already appeared in several news articles before 2000, including the New York Times 1999, New Scientist in 1994.

See other examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives on Alexei Navalny’s poisoning in our database, such as claims that only caffeine and alcohol were found in his blood, that the US wanted to use it to block Nord Stream 2 and Russia’s vaccine against coronavirus, that the West hopes that he dies to have an excuse for new sanctions, or that Western accusations about Navalny’s case are as false as they were about Sergey Skripal and Aleksandr Litvinenko.

The same video interview contained another disinformation claim alleging that Alexei Navalny did not shown any symptoms of Novichok.


  • Reported in: Issue 215
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 09/10/2020
  • Language/target audience: Arabic
  • Country: UK, Russia
  • Keywords: novichok, Virus / bacteria threat, Alexei Navalny


Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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No signs that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok

There are no signs or symptoms that show that Novichok was used against Alexei Navalny.

The symptoms of poisoning that appeared on Navalny are not a familiar result of Novichok characteristics. If Novichok was indeed used, he would not have been able to survive, especially since these chemicals shut down the body completely. If a person would survive, he would be living in a vegetative state, with no ability to move or speak, or even quickly return back to a normal life.


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny fell ill during a flight and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors said he was in a coma and they were trying to save his life. He was transferred to Berlin and was treated at Berlin's Charite Hospital. The German federal government said that toxicological tests provided “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group” in the blood samples of Navalny.

A strong external player is trying to create an “arc of instability” around Russia

There are hotbeds of tension throughout the post-Soviet space. We are talking about states that are not just Russia’s neighbours. These are countries that have partner relations with Russia. Many are again discussing the arc of instability, the State Department’s naphthalene plan to increase tensions on the Russian borders. A strong external player is trying to create a kind of “arc of instability” next to Russia.


The article appeared in the context of the recent escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh which is a continuation of the decades-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

This conspiracy theory is hinting that the escalation of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the result of deliberate Western actions aimed at harming Russia and its interests. It, therefore, corresponds to recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about the belligerent and hostile US and West and fits well into the disinformation narrative that presents virtually all protests, civil uprisings, or local conflicts as a consequence of the West's intentional actions.

NATO is trying to destroy the military alliance of Russia and Belarus

NATO continues to build up its combat potential and military activity in Europe. The deployment of NATO’s military infrastructure is proceeding at an accelerated pace in the Baltics. The main goal of expanding military activity is to dismantle the military alliance of Belarus and Russia.


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about NATO.

NATO is in no way directed against Russia or any other state. NATO’s objectives are set out in the 1949 Washington Treaty which forms the legal basis of the alliance. The treaty states that parties “are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security”.