20:05 GMT07 July 2020
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    SHIKHANY (Sputnik) - The closed town of Shikhany in Russia's Saratov Region has nothing to do with chemical weapons, but it is grateful to the UK media for the town's "promotion" and intends to register "Novichok" as a trademark for locally-manufactured household chemicals, Shikhany Mayor Andrei Tatarinov told Sputnik in an interview

    "Chemical weapons were never stored or dumped in Shikhany. [The lab] used to be involved in their development but there were no chemical weapons depots [here] … Claims that 'Novichok' was manufactured here, in Shikhany, are absurd. We perceive it as a lie, as a hoax. The main point is that all accusations are unfounded," Tatarinov said, adding that the town had good ecology, with people picking mushrooms without fear to be poisoned.

    The Shikhany facility, which is currently a branch of the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, was indeed involved in the development of military-grade chemical agents during the Soviet era. However, in the 1990s, after Russia joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), it terminated all its military programs and started specializing in civilian industry.

    READ MORE: Alleged Novichok Creator Hit by Car in Russia's Anapa

    Tatarinov stressed that after joining the CWC, the laboratory’s activities were under thorough supervision.

    "In the 1990s, the Russian Federation signed the CWC. I remember that Americans arrived here and inspected everything. All the processes in the institute were conducted under their supervision. The institute began research into the issues of chemical arsenal elimination but was not involved in the elimination itself, rather in developing the required technologies. Currently, the program is complete. The institute has accomplished its mission," he stressed.

    The mayor noted that thereafter the institute had been living its last days, with its buildings being demolished. The Institute anticipates reassignment and is seeking new fields of specialization, he added.

    Tatarinov also dismissed UK reports as absurd, noting UK intelligence, in principle, could not have obtained any samples from Shikhany, since it is a closed town, where one needs to receive an entrance permit, while foreigners are prohibited from visiting the area entirely.

    The official also questioned the very credibility of the whole high-profile story around the Skripals’ poisoning.

    "Do you remember that experts said that if the Skripals were poisoned with 'Novichok,' it would end in their subsequent deaths. But I, from the beginning, was convinced that as soon as the presidential election in Russia was over, the Skripals would 'come to life.' A question arises — whether the assassination attempt did take place?" Tatarinov pointed out.

    The mayor also questioned the expertise of Vladimir Uglev and Vil Mirzayanov, who both claimed to be the creators of the 'Novichok' and made some statements on the issue in the British media. According to Tatarinov, in reality, they were only tangentially involved in the program for the development of military-grade chemical agents.

    READ MORE: Moscow Dissatisfied With UK Answers to Skripal Case Questions — Mission to OPCW

    In conclusion, Tatarinov expressed a belief that the city would find a new impetus for its development as it is located not far from the Volga River, the railway and federal highway. He also voiced hope that the Shanghai-Hamburg highway, which is part of the so-called Silk Road, would run not far from the city and give a boost to the city's development.

    According to the mayor, Shikhany sees its prospects in the production of fertilizers, household and veterinary chemicals.

    On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping mall in the UK city of Salisbury. The UK authorities have blamed Russia for attempting to assassinate the Skripals with the A234 nerve agent, one of the group of compounds referred to as Novichok.

    READ MORE: Worthless Poison, Dead Pets, Deleted Tweets & Other Nonsense in the Skripal Case

    In early April, The Times reported that UK intelligence agencies that briefed their allies on the Salisbury attack allegedly pinpointed the source of the substance to a laboratory in Shikhany. The Russian officials dismissed the reports, saying that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had a chance to physically observe the Shikhany facility and establish that chemical weapons had never been stored or produced there.


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