Were Ukrainian peace negotiators poisoned? YES; Poison Ivy & Political Implications

(Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) Were Ukrainian peace negotiators poisoned? The article reports both yea/nay viewpoints. My attention is drawn to an opinion that presumably originates from the U.S. intelligence community. Quoting,

Reuters reported that an anonymous US official said the incident was caused by “environmental” factors and not poisoning. And later an official in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office told the BBC that the Ukrainian delegation was “fine” and that a negotiator had called the poisoning story “false.”

In dissent, my inclination is yes, they were poisoned. The IC doubtless have one of the world’s most comprehensive test panels for poisons. It may omit one poison so common, you can order it from an art supplies store, or in a Korean restaurant. The dish is called Rhus Chicken. See  (PubMed) Ingestion of Rhus chicken causing systemic contact dermatitis in a Korean patient.

Urushiol is Japanese lacquer.  It has been in use for several millennia.  We know it as the irritant of poison ivy. The several-week duration of poison ivy skin irritation could be shortened to that experienced by the negotiators with a solution of reduced urushiol concentration in a solvent with higher mobility. A suitable carrier solvent could be DMSO.

That one of the negotiators was unaffected supports this theory; about 28% of humans are unaffected by urushiol. This is likely not the first use. See Alexei Navalny, Poisoned Again? The Russian Poison Trick. Quoting,

The Russian arsenal also includes agents of embarrassment, such as the dioxin TCDD, used against Viktor Yushchenko in 2004. In July 2019, Navalny asserted he was “poisoned” in his Moscow jail cell.  (Reuters) Kremlin critic Navalny says he may have been poisoned. The nonlethal swelling and skin irritation could have been caused by urushiol, the cause of poison ivy. A subtle warning?

As pure chemistry, the preceding article, Russian Use of CW Agents in Ukraine, in Detail, has limited readership.  This title includes “Political Implications” for humanistic summation: The perpetrators have violated a chivalric tradition thousands of years old, spanning many cultures: safety of the emissary or guest. Though lethal consequences have not (yet) manifested, this is a death-rides-a-horse moment, an overt expression of ancient otherness that should henceforth be at the forefront of our thoughts.

This implies that the ambitions of Putin’s “inner cabinet” (see Exploiting Cracks in the Kremlin; Putin, the New Stalin?) may not be as deflectable by rational pressure as we might hope. Yet the Ukrainians are more  deserving of our support than they were on the first day.

Planning should begin now to sustain Ukraine against the assault of a possibly better Russian army, with massed armor, in early summer.



Russian Use of CW Agents in Ukraine, in Detail

Biological warfare agents have effects highly unique to each agent. CW agents can be characterized by a comparatively small number of parameters. So we defer BW to another time. Discussion of CW agents is followed by conditions of use.

CW Agents. Prompt inspection of a suspected site of CW attack  results in complete documentation. Yet for one CW agent, even this level of documentation is vulnerable to the the thinnest veneer of deniability. The agent is chlorine.

Unlike subsequent war gases, chlorine is present in the natural environment. The human body contains about 1/2 ounce, 14 grams, matched with equal quantities of sodium/potassium — mostly table salt! Yet 15mg, 1/1000 of the above, dissolved in a cubic meter of air, repeatedly inhaled, kills. So a victim’s body does not contain significantly more chlorine than an unexposed person. Diagnosis is made from pulmonary edema, and videos of  clouds of green gas that tend to hug the ground. The Russians would point out that pulmonary edema has a multitude of causes, while the clouds were caused by Ukrainians.  Everybody has chlorine for industrial purposes.

To prove a battlefield death is due to chlorine, it would help to find a biomarker, a chemical tell-tale for chlorine. Until 2020, there was no known  biomarker. (PubMed) Determination of 3-chloro-l-tyrosine as a novel indicator of chlorine poisoning utilizing gas chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis proposes one. It may be possible to operate a portable mass spectrometer in a war zone, but preparation of the sample is involved. Russia doesn’t have to worry about this capability, because in the West, chlorine is regarded as primitive.

We focus unduly on VX, Novichok, and sarin, because deniability is still, after so many years, a nuisance rather than a crux. VX and Novichok are not likely to be used. These are liquids with low volatility, that tend to stick around. As they are incredibly persistent in urban nooks and crannies, they are area-denial weapons, akin to chemical minefields.

Quoting (EPA) Persistence of Chemical Warfare Agent VX on Building Material Surfaces, page 6,

…the significant difference between the residual amount of VX observed at the end (45 weeks) of these dissipation tests and the PRG indicates that the attenuation of VX by itself is not an
effective approach for remediating a contaminated site.

If Novichok, also a liquid, were used in quantity against an urban area, only extreme efforts could reclaim structures for habitation. While these agents decay quickly in the body, they leave persistent biomarkers. If such a site were open to CW inspection, the corpses would have to be incinerated along with the real estate.

Sarin, though far less toxic than VX and Novichok, is volatile, rapidly transforming to a heavy gas that invades lower levels, basements, and bunkers. It leaves specific biomarkers in the victim, so the Russians would have to be very confident that they could sequester the  bodies. Perhaps this is another reason they brought portable crematoriums.

If they are not confident, there is another possibility, blending less-lethal or nonlethal agents, chlorine or tear gas, with  sarin. I strongly suspected Assad’s forces of this; I might have had a little company, but not much. The idea is to bamboozle the inspectors. A definitive level of sarin metabolite is replaced by “trace quantity”, the clinical signs are inconclusive; not as many people died as expected; the monitor cannot reach a formal conclusion out of those allowed by training. This is all that is required of a CW agent for the thin Russian veneer of deniability.

Conditions of use. Now that we understand the agents, this is simple. To thwart time-critical examination by inspectors, the area subject to CW attack must have low risk of recapture. When the front line includes an unreduced enemy strong point, this is called investment. Mariupol is currently invested. If there is no relief, sarin, or a sarin blend may be regarded as low risk.

It has been suggested that Russian forces stuck to the roads rather than risk mud. When summer dries out the ground, so the opinion goes, Russian tank formations will storm Kiev in something resembling a blitzkrieg. I don’t know if they can do this, but the opinion has it they had to be trained to do at least one thing half well.

If the Russians hold this opinion about themselves, they may resort to  CW attacks ahead of their armored spearheads, confident that the areas of CW attack will not be retaken. It would be new military history; I am unaware of a prior CW – combined arms attack.

From my article Facebook,

We begin with reality of the group mind, not as  the helpful superintelligence of (Wikipedia) collective consciousness, but of the atavistic human, the crowd run amok, the groupthink of hatred, of awakening the Beast in Five Million Years to Earth.

The Beast has awakened in Russia.





Russian Use of CBW Agents in Ukraine

Western strategists should proceed with the assumption that Russian use of CBW  agents is likely.  From the beginning of the Soviet state, only the thinnest veneer of deniability was required for extrajudicial terror.  The pattern extends into foreign policy. Failure to appreciate this may cloud  thinking that minimizes the possibility.

There are at least two ground situations, which currently exist, that facilitate the thinnest veneer, and a number of chemical agents / methods of application.

Prepare for the worst. A discussion in detail will follow.


In Memorium; Sylvan Morein, March 26,1923 – March 20, 2022; Eulogy to my Father

My father Sylvan was interviewed   for the Veterans History Project (video). He was one of the lucky ones, separated from his unit when they were shipped to Anzio. The 1156 Combat Engineers indulged his taste for cold, hard work, building Bailey bridges across German rivers.

I’m not inclined to mourn. When the tears come, in sudden brief showers,  they seem related to the harsh contradictions of the present, to his labor in  hope for a better world, by a Russia that is more eager to destroy than build, to kill than save, with a virulent nationalism of the kind that may dog the human spirit forever. What did my father’s generation extinguish by their humanity extended to former enemies? Perhaps nothing, perhaps the darkness of humanity can be abated for periods of time, to rise again when the agony of a generation is forgotten.

What follows is a personal remembrance, of the kind that exists outside the horrors of the present.


In memory of Sylvan Morein, March 26, 1923 – March 20, 2022

In 1992, my father Sylvan was in hospital, when he almost died from pneumonia. I wrote these reflections then; they serve well now. I have learned that the depth of a person can have multiple dimensions. I’ve learned that the worth of a person is better measured by their positive qualities, rather than their lacks.

Sylvan did not have an abstract mind. His thoughts were governed, not by principles, but by values, burned into his brain during the Great Depression. While my maternal Grandpa Frank, with brilliant intuition, was able to cushion the Green family, such was not the case with the Moreins. Caught between the philanthropic instincts of his father, Joseph, and the severe economy of his mother, Betty, his mind was imprinted with the personal struggle to survive. When I was young, the purchase of a new chair or table was a matter of great fanfare. And old furniture was not thrown out. This house has become a veritable junk pile of old furniture. I once remarked to Grandpa Frank that Dad had no aesthetic sense. With a wry smile, he replied, “Yes, but what can you do about it?”

But as the saying goes, blood is thicker than water. A lifetime with this very different person prompts some observations. There is the realization that the quality of a person is not the same as intellect. A person’s professed beliefs may be at odds with an unerring instinct for fairness and charity in his personal relations. One may not have the framework to extend his concerns to the poor and the homeless at large, yet may be touched and generous in the situations that he personally confronts.

Sylvan practiced dentistry for fifty-three years, and became known as the “painless dentist.” I have, while traveling, and after he retired, patronized other dentists. The discomforts were similar. Yet the patients made broad expressions of affection, verging on love. The only explanation I can think of is his solicitude. An n elderly Italian immigrant whose first dental visit was with my dad vowed that upon his retirement, she would never visit another dentist.

Throughout his life, he engaged in surprising acts of personal generosity. These acts, and the bonds that preceded them, seem forged on an ancient tribal model, between the strong and the weak, the powerful, and the insignificant, in a way not encompassed by modern western theories of social responsibility. They have no pattern, no philosophy, but they cannot be denied. His quality was recognized early in his career, when he was groomed by the elders of dental politics, with eventual presidency of the county dental society. What qualities did his elders perceive? They never said. Perhaps there is such a thing as a “man of quality” that defies further description. Comparing myself to my father, my modern intellect and liberality against his deeds, he wins hands down.

When his elder brother Lou was stricken with a brain tumor, he went over to the house with his two nephews, Allen and Barry. Lou could not walk. To get him into his bedroom, the three of them put him in an armchair, and carried the whole thing up the stairs. The image is burned into my brain like the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. His care for his father and two brothers provided a lesson this nonverbal man would never put into words: “We never leave someone behind.”

His attitude towards mortality was noteworthy. At age seventy, with two brothers deceased, he felt stalked by death. Twenty years later, his fear abated. Today we take our leave, without regret, since. his was a life well lived..

Kh-47M2 Kinzhal in Ukraine

Edit: I misread the specs; Kinzhal does have terminal guidance. Quoting (AINonline) Putin Unveils Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile,

Terminal guidance is provided by the 9E436 optics correlator or 9B318 active radar head.

This article was written with the presumption that terminal guidance is lacking. There is a way to extract value from the discussion: Consider the possibility that the seeker performs poorly in some environments. While an optical seeker could readily discern the sharp angular contour of a warship, the Ukraine landscape, a gentle plain, may be too difficult. Recognition technology is further stressed by the extreme speed of Kinzhal, about 14X a subsonic cruise missile.

Although unknown to open source, the  intelligence community is aware of whether Kinzhal strikes failed. If so, this discussion offers mechanisms of failure:


The death and destruction inflicted by Russia on Ukraine makes the details of a weapon seem inconsequential. Kinzhal is merely a variation on a theme, which has origin in the ground-launch U.S. Pershing II of the early 80’s. The Pershing II remains impressive in current context.

Rather than specific links, just search for “Ukraine Kinzhal”. There is a picture of an intact Kinzhal on the ground, with part of the adapter cradle still attached. It appears that the rocket motor never ignited. The press has done a fair job. Though unable to resist headline hype ala “deadly weapon… cannot be intercepted”, the articles are pretty good.

Citing Alexey Leonkov (2018-05-23). “Hypersonic Dagger Throw: competitors are still in diapers”. zvezdaweekly.ru. Retrieved 2018-05-24.,  Wikipedia  specifications:

  • Guidance system: INS with the possibility of adjustments from GLONASS, remote control and optical homing system[4]
  • Flight ceiling 20 km (65,617 ft)[4]
  • Accuracy 1 meter.
  • Maximum speed Mach 10 – Mach 12 (12,300–14,700 km/h; 7,610–9,130 mph)[6]

A closed-loop terminal guidance system, such as a camera or terrain-map,  is not a feature of Kinzhal. While a U.S. cruise missile can fly through a window, Kinzhal relies primarily on the least accurate of all modern guidance schemes, inertial navigation, or  INS. Precision gyroscopes and sensors of acceleration measure position relative to start without outside reference. As short as time of flight may be, INS drifts, so that where the missile thinks it is, isn’t. The specs offer the “possibility” of correction by GLONASS, the Russian GPS system.

The combination of maximum speed and altitude hints at a problem with GLONASS, ionization blackout. Some spacecraft, such as the Space Shuttle, have a cooler upper surface which shortens the duration. Kinzhal has a symmetric body without this possibility.

SPACECRAFT REENTRY COMMUNICATIONS BLACKOUT offers a Saha equation table that suggests the GLONASS satnav signal is blocked in the upper speed range of Kinzhal. At lower speeds, reception is possible. Kinzhal operators are forced to a conscious choice between speed and accuracy. One meter is as ridiculous as Russian claims for their recycled Norden bombsight; see The Russian SVP-24 Bombsight.

One version  of the related Iskander missile has TERCOM, which can serve as a rough form of terminal guidance. It may have been too difficult to implement with Kinzhal, or the spec is in error. The following estimate assumes it is absent.

An informed guess at accuracy is based on the Pershing II; 30 meters (100 ft) circular error probable. Since the Pershing II had closed loop terminal guidance by a radar imaging system, there was essentially no guidance error. The remainder was due small scale,  turbulent hypersonic flow around the small fins and random error in the fin actuators. 30 meters describes a practical minimum for a  re-entry vehicle with small fins.

  • Since Kinzhal also has small fins, 30 meters CEP is baked in.
  • +30 meters due to random solid rocket thrust variation. The Pershing reentry vehicle  had no engine, hence induced less sensor and actuator noise.
  • +30 meters from extreme vibration, extremely deleterious to INS.

Double the 90 meters due to sloppy manufacture, for a CEP of 200 meters. If Kinzhal implements TERCOM, 100 meters.

With a U.S. cruise missile, which actually images the target, you can pick the window you want to fly through, or the part of a ship you want to hit.  In the absence of terminal guidance, how could  Kinzhal hit a moving ship? One possibility is that the specifications used for this estimate are incorrect. Or in use against high value naval targets, a nuclear warhead could be used.

The claim that Kinzhal cannot be intercepted holds up. In the world of munitions,  intercepts are rare. Anti-munition systems are plagued by specificity, effective only against narrow ranges of threat. The radar currently in use with the Patriot covers only one hemisphere. A MIG can launch a Kinzhal from outside that hemisphere.

Specificity is why Turkish drones that fly at the speed of a Piper Cub work so well. It is why a Patriot in Israel missed what was essentially an R/C airplane. And why, of 60 subsonic cruise missiles launched at Shayrat airfield in Syria, none were intercepted, in spite of the presence of the Russian S-400 anti-everything missile system.

It has been suggested that Kinzhal was used against the ammo dump because the much greater kinetic energy at impact enabled ground penetration. I suspect the warhead disassembled without explosion before it got too far into the mud.

Kinzhal was a poor man’s choice. We would have used a BLU-116, laser guided by an attached GBU-24 Paveway III, delivered by an invisible F-35. We would now be enjoying secondary explosions.

Suggestion to the  Third World: When the Russian arms salesman comes a’knockin, keep a tight grip on your wallet.








On behalf of all Ukrainians, a Shakespeare Appeal to Vladimir Putin

The Merchant Of Venice Act 3, scene 1, 58–68

Shylock speaks for Ukraine as Russia  crushes innocents under the Russian boot. Just substitute “Ukrainian” for “Jew.”

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?


Putin, War Criminal ?

(CNN) Biden on Putin: ‘I think he is a war criminal’.

By current  Western standards, Putin is. During the Vietnam War, we created war criminals by the bushel, but that was half a century ago. Those were the sins of our fathers. Now, we are enlightened.

Unfortunately, though enlightened democracies have half the GNP of the world, the same is not true of population. Even India, which of the Third World comes closest to Western democracy, refuses to oppose Russia. Nations buy only as much virtue as they can afford. China, which affords at least the Han Chinese a good attempt at ethical government, prioritizes sucking Russia into its orbit.

In 2016, I wrote Peter Van Buren the Apostate, and “Putin the Thug”. It’s fresh as a daisy now.

Note to Vladimir Putin: You risk savage   judgment in future histories.


Exploiting Cracks in the Kremlin; Putin, the New Stalin?

The sanctions against Russia’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund, and disconnection of major banks from SWIFT, make long term economic pressure feasible. If Russia cuts off gas and oil deliveries, Russia’s internal politics become unsustainable.

A more complex scenario arises if Russia chooses to accelerate oil/gas deliveries. Specialists hold that Russia’s economy will eventually collapse due to the many effects of pariah status, disconnection from SWIFT, and currency blockade. Will the desired result obtain? A possible scenario:

  • Pumping oil/gas like crazy, a social safety net for the bulk of the population is maintained, if in a somewhat tattered state.
  • Oligarchic wealth begins to dissipate. Members of this class react with anger.
  • The  oligarchic side of the Kremlin  conflicts with a new power center, with new ideologues, extending into the military.
  • The new ideologues re-legitimize Stalin.
  • Borrowing from Stalin, the new power center applies harsh methods against the oligarchs.

(The Hill) Russia is shutting down its oldest human rights group. Quoting,

Memorial International, often abbreviated to Memorial, has studied “political repressions” by the former Soviet Union and present-day Russian government since 1992. Its predecessor, an earlier Moscow-based organization also named Memorial, was founded in 1987, according to the group’s website.

The largest part of Memorial’s archives concerned victims of Stalin’s terror. With erasure of memory, internal terror becomes a usable tool. To gain complete control of the Kremlin in the manner of Stalin, it is necessary to abrogate the quid-pro-quo with the Kremlin element of organized crime. This element, and those oligarchs who oppose  dissipation of their wealth, could face execution.  The oligarchs were last dethroned circa 2000.

A possible Neo-Stalinist nucleus now serve as Putin’s “inner cabinet”, displacing more balanced viewpoints. (NYT) The Hard-Line Russian Advisers Who Have Putin’s Ear names Sergey Shoigu, Nikolai Patrushev ,and Sergey Naryshkin. Quoting,

“This is an attempt collectively to form a counter-ideology, since Putin doesn’t have an ideology,” Konstantin Remchukov, a Moscow newspaper editor with Kremlin ties, said of what he called the “conservative-reactionary” worldview of Russia’s security elite. “The key postulate is that everyone is against Russia.”

The Kremlin fault line:

  • An “inner cabinet” espousing newly devised ideology, in which practical resemblance to Stalinism may emerge.  Romantics.
  • The “outer cabinet”, consisting of civil servants, with an admixture of oligarchic and criminal elements. Pragmatists.

How do you play something like this? The romantics will not respond to external pressure. They may respond to pressure from the pragmatists, by accommodation or liquidation. All we can do is amplify the anxiety of the outer cabinet, whose pragmatism shows in a “quant” mindset.

This is best done by  deployment of future sanctions with anticipatory advertisements, providing the oligarch with a forecast of wealth dissipation  that is both worrisome and predictable. If Russia chooses to pump all-out,  friendly production must be encouraged with a  quota for Russian sales that decreases over time.

For more elaborate schemes, see






Joe Biden’s State of the Union; Volodymyr Zelensky; Vladimir Putin

Our reveries are always a bit more vivid than reality. We don’t fault them for this. Whatever piece of a reverie comes to life could not have happened had our thoughts been restricted to the day’s reality. Joe Biden’s dreams, blazing with optimism,  lit up the House Chamber. I heard one word, over and over, though it was never spoken. Love.

Biden is obviously in accord with Les Brown, who says,  “Most people fail not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Thank you Joe. Keep aiming for a better world.


The dreams of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have galvanized the Free World. In childhood, my grandmother, Sarah Briscoe, told us  of our relative,  Irish gunrunner and politician Robert Briscoe, who sought to prove that a Jew could be as good an Irishman as any other, and succeeded.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian Jew,  you have filled a lifetime  with courage and conviction. No one doubts it. You have nothing left to prove.


A note to Vladimir Putin. An empire forged in fire will melt like ice in the summer sun. In at most 20 years.