Ground Report | New Delhi: Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and at least two Ukrainian peace negotiators reportedly suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning earlier this month after a meeting in Kyiv.
The Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat reported on the claims, citing people familiar with the matter who blamed hardliners in Moscow who wanted to sabotage peace talks with Ukraine.
Abramovich and at least two high-level members of Ukraine’s negotiating team were affected, according to the WSJ report.
However, Reuters quoted a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying intelligence suggested an “environmental” reason for the symptoms suffered by Abramovich and the negotiators, “for example, not poisoning.”
Abramovich, who grew up an orphan in southwestern Russia and served in the Soviet Union’s army, was one of the most powerful businessmen who made fabulous fortunes after the breakup of the USSR in 1991.
A commodity trader who prospered in the post-Soviet turmoil under then-President Boris Yeltsin, he bought stakes in oil company Sibneft, aluminium producer Rusal and airline Aeroflot, then sold them for massive profits.
Under Vladimir Putin, Abramovich served as governor of the remote Arctic region of Chukotka in Russia’s Far East before buying Chelsea Football Club in 2003.
It is reportedly worth around $10 billion.
However, the West’s reaction to the war in Ukraine has hit it globally.
Abramovich has been sanctioned by Britain, the European Union and Canada, but not by the United States, for his links to the Vladimir Putin regime.
The Premier League disqualified him from managing Chelsea earlier this month.
He was in Kyiv at the request of Ukraine.
Ukraine asked Abramovich to help mediate with Moscow because of his background in Russia, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters late last month.
The BBC reported that Abramovich had been in Kyiv for several rounds of talks earlier this month and had met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The Kremlin said Abramovich played an early role in the Russia-Ukraine peace talks but said the process was now in the hands of the two sides’ negotiating teams.
Those teams will meet in Istanbul on Tuesday for the first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks.
The alleged victims of the poisoning suffered peeling of the skin
According to the WSJ report, Abramovich and the negotiators exhibited symptoms including constantly red, sore and watery eyes, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, after the March 3 round of talks.
Abramovich and the Ukrainian negotiators, including Crimean Tatar deputy Rustem Umerov, have since improved and their lives are not in danger, the WSJ reported.
A person familiar with the matter confirmed the details to Reuters but said Abramovich had continued to work.
It is not clear what poison he may have used.
Bellingcat said experts who examined the incident concluded: “poisoning with an undefined chemical weapon” was the most likely cause.