NEW YORK: A Russian chemist living in the United States who first revealed the existence of Novichok believes Moscow orchestrated the poisoning of a British couple to sow confusion about the origin of an earlier attack.
Britain says the couple were exposed to the same nerve agent used on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter last March in the English market city of Salisbury, in an attempted murder blamed on Moscow that sparked a diplomatic crisis.
"I believe it is a fresh attack. It is not physically connected to the Salisbury attack," Vil Mirzayanov told AFP by telephone from his home in Princeton, New Jersey on Thursday.
"The goal is to make this a distraction from the investigation in Salisbury," said the 83-year-old scientist and vehement critic of Vladimir Putin.
It is a way for the Russians to say "this couple has absolutely no relationship with us," and this is "an internal English problem, not an international problem," Mirzayanov added.
He also dismissed one theory being considered by British authorities that one of the couple picked up the container, which stored the nerve agent used against the Skripals. He said the nerve agent would not remain potent four months later.
"Novichok is very vulnerable to moisture – it immediately deteriorates," on contact with water, Mirzayanov said.
The 45-year-old British man and 44-year-old woman fell ill on Saturday in Amesbury, a small town about 13km north of Salisbury. The couple had visited Salisbury a day earlier.
The timing, he speculated, was interesting ahead of US President Donald Trump's meeting with Putin in the Finnish capital on July 16.
"This way Trump does not have to bring it up at the Helsinki summit," he said.
Mirzayanov moved to the United States in 1995 after working for 30 years at the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, or GNIIOKhT.
It was he who in the early 1990s revealed the existence of that class of ultra-powerful nerve agents. Novichok is a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.