Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services

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Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services
Established1921; 102 years ago (1921)
Research typeClassified
Field of research
Poisons capable of killing humans

The poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services, alternatively known as Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12, and Kamera (which means "The Cell" in Russian), was a covert research-and-development facility of the Soviet secret police agencies. Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the laboratory manufactured and tested poisons[1][2] and was reportedly reactivated by the Russian government in the late 1990s.[3][4]

The laboratory activities were mentioned in the Mitrokhin archive.


  • 1921: First poison laboratory within the Soviet secret services was established under the name "Special Office". It was operated by the Cheka and 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. Victims included the American Isaiah Oggins.
  • March 14, 1953: It was renamed to Laboratory 12. V. Naumov became 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) were 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 variety of lethal poisons on prisoners from the Gulags, including mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, curare, cyanide, and many others.[7] The objective of these experiments was to identify a tasteless, odorless chemical that could not be detected post-mortem. Candidate poisons were administered to the victims along with a meal or drink, disguised as "medication".[5]

Ultimately, a preparation meeting the desired criteria was developed and referred to as C-2 or K-2 (carbylamine choline chloride).[5][8][9] According to witness testimonies, the victims experienced physical changes, such as a rapid weakening and diminishment in height, followed by a calm and silent demeanor, culminating in death within 15 minutes.[5] Mairanovsky intentionally brought individuals of various physical conditions and ages into the laboratory to comprehensively understand the effects of each poison.

Pavel Sudoplatov and Nahum Eitingon only approved specialized equipment (namely, poisons) if it had been tested on "humans", as revealed in the testimony of Mikhail Filimonov.[5] Vsevolod Merkulov stated that these experiments received authorization from NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria.[5] Following Stalin's death and Beria's subsequent arrest, Beria attested 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]

Alleged victims[edit]

  • Russian writer Maxim Gorky and his son Max Peshkov. During the Trial of the Twenty-One in 1938, NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda admitted that he poisoned Gorky and his son and unsuccessfully tried to poison his own deputy (and eventual successor) Nikolai 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 pieces of 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, abruptly fell ill in 1949 and died in a Moscow hospital. According to some historians, Dimitrov was poisoned by the Soviet authorities on the orders of Stalin, due in part to his support for the proposed Balkan Federation.
  • Nikolai Khokhlov, a KGB defector who survived a thallium poisoning attempt in Frankfurt in 1957.
Alleged FSB victims
  • Lechi Ismailov, a Chechen rebel commander sentenced in Russia for nine years in prison died in September 2002 after an 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]
  • 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 an 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. Shchekochikhin died from a fast and mysterious disease shortly before his departure to the US to testify before 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 an Aeroflot flight attendant.[20] She survived. The drug was allegedly prepared in the FSB poison facility.[21][22] Politkovskaya was later shot to death in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.
  • 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.[22]
  • Viktor Kalashnikov, a freelance journalist and former KGB colonel, and his wife Marina Kalashnikova. In December 2010, the Charité hospital in Berlin discovered that they had been poisoned with mercury. Viktor Kalashnikov claimed it was the work of the FSB.[23]
  • Karinna Moskalenko, a human rights lawyer who defended Litvinenko and other anti-Putin dissidents in court. She fell ill from mercury poisoning in October 2008, just prior to a hearing regarding the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya. Although initially alleged to be an attempt on her life, it was found by French police to be the result of a barometer broken in the car by the previous owner.[24]
  • Viktor Yushchenko, the third President of Ukraine. Yuschenko was found to have been poisoned with TCDD dioxin during the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election campaign. In 2009, he accused Russia of shielding a number of witnesses to his poisoning, and called on the Russian government to turn them over.[25]
  • Pyotr Verzilov, spokesman for the protest band Pussy Riot. Verzilov was admitted to a hospital in Moscow in September 2018, before being transferred to the Charité in Berlin. The German doctors believed it was "highly probable" that Verzilov was poisoned.[26][22]
  • Vladimir Kara-Murza, opposition politician. Kara-Murza suddenly fell ill during a meeting in Moscow in May 2015, and was in a coma for more than a month. Coming on the heels of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow that February, his family suspected he had been poisoned.[27] Kara-Murza was hospitalized again for an alleged poisoning in February 2017.[28][22]
  • Sergei Skripal, former GRU officer and double agent for the British SIS, and his daughter Yulia. On 4 March 2018, the Skripals were poisoned with a Novichok agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom, where Sergei had been living since 2010.[29] Both eventually recovered; in 2020, they were reported to be living under new identities in New Zealand.[30]
  • Emilian Gebrev, Bulgarian arms dealer. Gebrev, his son, and one of his business partners were allegedly poisoned in April 2015. British investigators traveled to Bulgaria in 2019 to investigate an alleged connection between Gebrev's poisoning and that of the Skripals in England in 2018.[31]
  • Alexei Navalny, anti-corruption advocate and opposition leader. Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 20 August 2020, and placed into an induced coma at a hospital in Omsk. He was transferred to the Charité in Berlin two days later. Five laboratories certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the presence of a new type of Novichok agent.[32]

Planned victims[edit]

FSB era
  • The first democratically elected President of the Republic of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. According to former Deputy Director of Biopreparat Ken Alibek, this laboratory was possibly involved in the design of an undetectable chemical or biological agent to assassinate Gamsakhurdia.[33] BBC News reported that some Gamsakhurdia friends believed he committed suicide, "although his widow insists that he was murdered."[34]

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.[35]

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. doi:10.1080/10408410490468812. PMID 15646399. S2CID 30487628.
  3. ^ a b c d Harding, Luke (March 6, 2016). Alexander Litvinenko and the most radioactive towel in history. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved March 12, 2016. {{cite book}}: |newspaper= ignored (help)
  4. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (August 20, 2016). "More of Kremlin's Opponents Are Ending Up Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  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 "Interview: Alexander Kouzminov, Author of Biological Espionage". Archived from the original on April 25, 2005. Retrieved December 5, 2007..
  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. September 3, 2004. Archived from the original on January 29, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2006.
  21. ^ Sixsmith, Martin (November 20, 2006). "Different name, same tactics: How the FSB inherited the KGB's legacy". The Guardian.
  22. ^ a b c d "Toxic tea: Multiple Russian opponents of Vladimir Putin have been struck by poison". Chicago Tribune. August 20, 2020.
  23. ^ Allen, Nick (December 27, 2010). "German inquiry into 'poisoning' of Russian dissidents". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  24. ^ "Mercury in lawyer's car not suspicious, French police say". International Herald Tribune. October 23, 2008. Archived from the original on May 16, 2009. Retrieved October 24, 2008. at Webcite
  25. ^ "Yushchenko to Russia: Hand over witnesses". Kyiv Post. October 28, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
  26. ^ Smee, Jess; Harding, Luke (September 18, 2018). "'Highly probable' Pussy Riot activist was poisoned, say German doctors". The Guardian.
  27. ^ "Russian activist's sudden illness fuels poisoning suspicion". BBC News. June 4, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2022.
  28. ^ Eckel, Mike; Schreck, Carl (November 2018). "RFE/RL Exclusive: FBI Silent on Lab Results in Kremlin Foe's Suspected Poisoning". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
  29. ^ Dodd, Vikram; Harding, Luke; MacAskill, Ewen (March 8, 2018). "Sergei Skripal: former Russian spy poisoned with nerve gas, say police". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 7, 2018. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  30. ^ "Russian spies, lies and the British press: Are the poisoned Skripal duo living in NZ?". June 28, 2020. Archived from the original on July 27, 2020. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  31. ^ "'I almost died': arms dealer whose poisoning may be linked to Skripals'". The Guardian. February 18, 2019. Retrieved May 5, 2022.
  32. ^ Deutsch, Anthony (October 6, 2020). Jones, Gareth (ed.). "Chemical weapons body confirms nerve agent Novichok in Navalny's blood". Reuters. Mark Potter (ed.). Amsterdam. Archived from the original on October 19, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  33. ^ 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
  34. ^ Reburial for Georgia ex-president. The BBC News. Retrieved on April 1, 2007.
  35. ^ Kramer, Andrew E (August 20, 2016). "More of Kremlin's Opponents Are Ending Up Dead". The New York Times. New York Times.