The German government's announcement on Wednesday that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has been poisoned by a sophisticated nerve agent known as a Novichok makes this case even more serious than it already was. Most importantly, it will increase suspicions that, despite its denials, the Russian state was behind his poisoning. Novichok - meaning "newcomer" in Russian - applies to a group of synthetically produced nerve agents originally developed by the Soviet Union in a laboratory in Uzbekistan before the USSR disintegrated in 1991. Western intelligence agencies believe that Novichok has since been refined into a hard-to-detect assassination weapon in covert techniques practised by operatives of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, including being smeared on to door handles. Novichok can be deployed in both liquid and solid forms.