Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services

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Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services, alternatively known as Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12, and Kamera which means "The Chamber" in Russian, was a covert research and development facility of the Soviet secret police agencies[1][2] which reportedly reactivated in late 90's.[3][4]


  • 1921: First poison laboratory within the Soviet secret services was established under the name "Special Office". It was headed by professor of medicine Ignatii Kazakov, according to Pavel Sudoplatov.[5]
  • 1926: The laboratory was under the supervision of Genrikh Yagoda, a deputy of OGPU chairman Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, who became NKVD chief in 1934 after Menzhinsky's death.
  • February 20, 1939: It becomes Laboratory 1 headed by Grigory Mairanovsky. The laboratory was under the direct supervision of NKVD director Lavrenty Beria and his deputy Vsevolod Merkulov from 1939 to March 1953.
  • December 21, 1951: Grigory Mairanovsky arrested in connection with Viktor Abakumov's arrest, which was presumably a part of Joseph Stalin's campaign to remove NKVD chief, Lavrenty Beria.
  • March 14, 1953: It was renamed to Laboratory 12. V. Naumov is the newly appointed head. Lavrenty Beria and Vsevolod Merkulov were executed after Stalin's death. Immediate NKVD supervisor of the laboratory, Pavel Sudoplatov, received a long term in prison.
  • 1978: Expanded into the Central Investigation Institute for Special Technology within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.
  • Since 1991: Several laboratories of the SVR (headquartered in Yasenevo near Moscow) are responsible for the "creation of biological and toxin weapons for clandestine operations in the West".[6]

Human experimentation[edit]

Mairanovsky and his colleagues tested a number of deadly poisons on prisoners from the Gulags ("enemies of the people"), including mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, curare, cyanide, and many others.[7] The goal of the experiments was to find a tasteless, odourless chemical that could not be detected post-mortem. Candidate poisons were given to the victims, with a meal or drink, as "medication".[5]

Finally, a preparation with the desired properties called C-2 or K-2 (carbylamine-choline-chloride) was developed.[5][8][9] According to witness testimonies, the victim changed physically, became shorter, weakened quickly, became calm and silent, and died within fifteen minutes.[5] Mairanovsky brought to the laboratory people of varied physical condition and ages in order to have a more complete picture about the action of each poison.

Pavel Sudoplatov and Nahum Eitingon approved special equipment (i.e., poisons) only if it had been tested on "humans", according to testimony of Mikhail Filimonov.[5] Vsevolod Merkulov said that these experiments were approved by NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria.[5] After his arrest, Beria himself testified on August 28, 1953 that "I gave orders to Mairanovsky to conduct experiments on people sentenced to the highest measure of punishment, but it was not my idea".[5]

In addition to human experimentation, Mairanovsky personally executed people with poisons, under the supervision of Sudoplatov.[5][10]

Prominent victims[edit]

  • 1938: Abram Slutsky (17 February 1938)
  • 1959: Stepan Bandera
  • 1947: Archbishop Theodore Romzha of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is killed by injection of curare provided by Mairanovsky and administered by a medical nurse who was a Ministry for State Security agent.[5]
  • 1971: Nobel prize laureate and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn is poisoned with what is later determined to be ricin. Solzhenitsyn survives the attempt.[12][13]
  • 1978: Dissident Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov is assassinated in London using a tiny pellet from an umbrella gun poisoned with ricin; the necessary equipment is prepared in this laboratory.[14] In a Discovery Channel television program about his illustrated book of espionage equipment called "The Ultimate Spy," espionage historian H. Keith Melton indicates that once the Bulgarian secret police had decided to kill Markhov, KGB specialists from the Laboratory gave the Bulgarians a choice between two KGB tools that could be provided for the task: either a poisonous topical gelatin to be smeared on Markhov, or an instrument to administer a poison pellet, as was eventually done.
  • 1979: Attempted poisoning of the second President of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin on December 13, 1979. Department 8 of KGB succeeded in infiltrating the illegal agent Mitalin Talybov (codenamed SABIR) as a chef of Amin's presidential palace. However, Amin switched his food and drink as if he expected to be poisoned, so his son-in-law became seriously ill and, ironically, was flown to a hospital in Moscow[15]

Alleged victims[edit]

  • Russian writer Maksim Gorky and his son. During the Trial of the Twenty One in 1938, NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda admitted that he poisoned to death Maksim Gorky and his son and unsuccessfully tried to poison future NKVD boss Nikolay Yezhov. The attempted poisoning of Yezhov was later officially dismissed as falsification, but Vyacheslav Molotov believed that the poisoning accusations were true. Yagoda was never officially rehabilitated (recognized as an innocent victim of political repressions) by Soviet authorities.[5]
  • Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Russian historians Anton Antonov-Ovseenko and Edvard Radzinsky believe that Stalin was poisoned by associates of NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria, based on the interviews of a former Stalin bodyguard and numerous circumstantial evidence. Stalin planned to dismiss and execute Molotov and other senior members of the Soviet regime in 1953.[16] According to Radzinsky, Stalin was poisoned by Khrustalev, a senior bodyguard briefly mentioned in the memoirs of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's daughter.[17]
  • Georgi Dimitrov, the first Communist leader of Bulgaria, fell ill in 1949 and was sent to a Moscow hospital. His body was mummified and placed in a mausoleum. Stalin had no reason to have Dimitrov killed, because Dimitrov was his most loyal servant. However, Dimitrov had an idea of joining Bulgaria with Tito's Yugoslav Federation, which was not in the plans of Stalin.
  • Lechi Ismailov, a Chechen rebel commander sentenced in Russia for nine years in prison died in September 2002 after unsuccessful attempt to recruit him as an informer by FSB. Shortly after being transferred from the Lefortovo prison to a regular prison he had a "farewell" cup of tea with the FSB officer after which fell fatally ill, lost his hair and died shortly after.[3]
  • Nikolai Khokhlov, a KGB defector who survived a thallium poisoning attempt in Frankfurt in 1957.
  • Roman Tsepov, a Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin and Tambov Gang circles.[3][18]
  • Amir Khattab, who was poisoned by a "a fast-acting nerve agent, possibly sarin or a derivative" transferred on a letter delivered by a FSB-recruited courier.[19]
  • Yuri Shchekochikhin, a Russian journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Shchekochikhin investigated apartment bombings allegedly directed by the Russian secret services and the Three Whales Corruption Scandal which involved high-ranking FSB. Died from a fast and mysterious disease shortly before his departure to the US to testify before a FBI investigators. His medical documentation was classified as "state secret" by Russian authorities.[3]
  • Journalist Anna Politkovskaya. During the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004 and while on her way to Beslan to help in negotiations with the hostage-takers, Politkovskaya fell violently ill and lost consciousness after drinking tea given to her by Aeroflot flight attendant.[20] She survived. The drug was allegedly prepared in the FSB poison facility.[21]
  • Another victim was former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. He was poisoned in a sushi bar in London in 2006. Traces of polonium-210 were found in his body. In a farewell letter, Litvinenko accused president Vladimir Putin of being behind the attack on his life. Litvinenko was critical of the Putin regime and accused the FSB of being behind the 1999 attacks in Russia. He died on 23 November 2006.
  • Viktor Kalashnikov, Marina Kalashnikova, Karinna Moskalenko, Viktor Yushchenko

Planned victims[edit]

Threatened dissidents[edit]

The New York Times reported that Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and Putin opponent, drinks bottled water and eats prepared meals carried by his bodyguards.[24]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ KGB Poison Factory: From Lenin to Litvinenko, RFE/RL, interview with Boris Volodarsky (Russian) - English version
  2. ^ Shoham, D.; Wolfson, Z. (October–December 2004). "The Russian Biological Weapons Program: Vanished or Disappeared?". Critical Reviews in Microbiology. 30 (4): 241–261. PMID 15646399. doi:10.1080/10408410490468812. 
  3. ^ a b c d Harding, Luke (2016-03-06). Alexander Litvinenko and the most radioactive towel in history. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  4. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (2016-08-20). "More of Kremlin’s Opponents Are Ending Up Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press (2004) ISBN 0-8133-4280-5.
  6. ^ Alexander Kouzminov Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-85367-646-2 [1].
  7. ^ Andrew Meier. 2008. The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service, W. W. Norton.
  8. ^ Kristen Laurence, The Murder Stories
  9. ^ Boris Volodarsky, The KGB's Poison Factory, page 34.
  10. ^ History of Soviet poisonings (Russian) by Boris Sokolov grani.ru
  11. ^ Meier, Andrew (August 11, 2008). The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service. W. W. Norton. pp. 273–288. ISBN 978-0-393-06097-3. 
  12. ^ Vaksberg, Arkadiĭ (2011). Toxic Politics: The Secret History of the Kremlin's Poison Laboratory--from the Special Cabinet to the Death of Litvinenko. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-0-313-38746-3. 
  13. ^ Pearce, Joseph (2011). Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile (Rev. and updated ed.). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-58617-496-5. 
  14. ^ a b Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, Gardners Books (2000), ISBN 0-14-028487-7
  15. ^ Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Basic Books (2005) hardcover, 677 pages ISBN 0-465-00311-7
  16. ^ Edvard Radzinsky Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives (1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9
  17. ^ Svetlana Alliluyeva Twenty Letters To A Friend (autobiography, published 1967, London, written 1963) ISBN 0-06-010099-0
  18. ^ Harding, Luke (2016). A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West. Guardian Faber Publishing. ISBN 978-1783350933. 
  19. ^ Ian R Kenyon (June 2002). "The chemical weapons convention and OPCW: the challenges of the 21st century" (PDF). The CBW Conventions Bulletin. Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation (56): 47. 
  20. ^ "Russian journalist reportedly poisoned en route to hostage negotiations". IFEX. 2004-09-03. Retrieved 2006-10-11. 
  21. ^ Sixsmith, Martin (20 November 2006). "Different name, same tactics: How the FSB inherited the KGB's legacy". The Guardian. 
  22. ^ a b Ken Alibek and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World - Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. 1999. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6
  23. ^ Reburial for Georgia ex-president. The BBC News. Retrieved on April 1, 2007.
  24. ^ Kramer, Andrew E (August 20, 2016). "More of Kremlin’s Opponents Are Ending Up Dead". New York Times.