Suspected Poisoning of Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian Peace Negotiators

Hardliners in Moscow, according to sources acquainted with the situation, are trying to derail peace talks by causing symptoms in a Russian oligarch. After a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators had signs of possible poisoning, according to persons familiar with the situation. Following the March 3 meeting in Kyiv, Mr. Abramovich, Ukrainian politician Rustem Umerov, and another negotiator suffered symptoms including red eyes, continuous and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, according to the sources. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Abramovich has traveled between Moscow, Belarus, and other negotiating locations.

According to a source acquainted with the situation, Mr. Abramovich was blinded for a few hours and then had problems eating. Some persons familiar with the situation blamed the alleged strike on hardliners in Moscow who they claimed were trying to derail peace efforts. It was unclear who had targeted the organization, according to a source close to Mr. Abramovich. Mr. Abramovich and the others involved in the incident have improved since then, and their lives are no longer in danger, according to the sources. They said that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who met with Mr. Abramovich, was unaffected. Mr. Zelensky’s spokesman said he was unaware of any possible contamination. Mr. Umerov tweeted on Monday, “I’m well.”

According to those acquainted with the situation, Western scientists investigating the incident claimed it was difficult to identify whether the symptoms were caused by a chemical or biological agent or by some form of electromagnetic-radiation attack. A request for comment from the Kremlin on the suspected poisoning went unanswered. Christo Grozev, an investigator with the Bellingcat open-source collective, organized the study after concluding that a Kremlin squad poisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent in 2020. Mr. Grozev said he saw photographs of Mr. Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators being harmed as a result of the incident. However, he noted that because the affected individuals were in a haste to go to Istanbul, exams of the affected individuals could not be arranged in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, through which they were traveling.

By the time a German forensic team was able to conduct an assessment, too much time had gone for the suspected poison to be found, he claimed. Mr. Grozev explained, “It wasn’t meant to kill, it was merely a warning.” According to Bellingcat, the three individuals suspected of being poisoned ingested only chocolate and water in the hours leading up to the onset of symptoms. According to Bellingcat, the men went to a residence in Kyiv that night after the talks ended and began to feel ill. On their route to Poland and ultimately Istanbul, the gang drove from Kyiv to Lviv the next day.

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The Russian government has been accused of employing poison to punish adversaries in the past. Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western Ukrainian presidential candidate, was poisoned in 2004, and his face was deformed. Mr. Yushchenko, who became president following the Orange Revolution, blamed Russia for the attack. In 2018, Britain implicated Russia’s intelligence agencies for a nerve-agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, a former Russian military officer who defected to the UK. Both were rescued, as was a British police officer who had been hospitalized after coming into touch with the toxin. After coming into contact with the nerve toxin by mistake, a British woman perished.

The Russian government has denied any role in the Skripal poisoning. Mr. Abramovich, who has long had ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, became involved in efforts to halt the war in Ukraine shortly after Moscow launched its assault on Feb. 24, according to sources familiar with the situation. According to them, his activities are sometimes in tandem with, and sometimes in opposition to, a second, official negotiating track between Ukrainian and Russian representatives. Mr. Abramovich, one of Russia’s wealthiest men, and members of the official Ukrainian negotiation team were present at the Kyiv meeting where the suspected poisoning took place.

According to those familiar with the call, Mr. Zelensky has begged President Biden not to impose sanctions on Mr. Abramovich, who has a minority investment in the steel business Evraz PLC and holds Portuguese citizenship, because he is involved in the negotiations. The United Kingdom and the European Union have both sanctioned Mr. Abramovich, who also owns the Chelsea soccer club. Mr. Zelensky refused to comment on his discussions with Mr. Biden when asked about Mr. Abramovich in an interview with independent Russian media groups on Sunday. Mr. Abramovich, he said, was a member of a Russian negotiating team subcommittee before attempting to assist with humanitarian issues, including the evacuation of Ukrainian residents from the besieged city of Mariupol.

According to those familiar with the situation, Mr. Abramovich was spotted in Belarus in late February when early, official talks between Kyiv and Moscow began and has worked as a backchannel for talks with the Kremlin, directly meeting with Mr. Putin on Ukraine. According to those persons, his involvement in the talks changes on a regular basis, and he has tried to include others, including former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Mr. Abramovich has decided to stay active in the peace talks despite the suspected poisoning, according to a source close to him. He’s been to Poland and Ukraine in the last week, and he’ll be in Istanbul on Monday, according to this source. People who have lately seen him claim that he has spent a significant amount of time mediating between the warring sides. Mr. Abramovich’s late mother was a Ukrainian immigrant.

As the conflict has come to a halt, the discussions have failed to find traction. On several fronts, Russia’s advance has come to a halt. Meanwhile, Ukraine has lacked the means to undertake a strong counter-offensive in order to reclaim occupied territory. A fresh round of talks is due to begin in Turkey on Tuesday, with negotiators discussing both a future political settlement to the war and immediate humanitarian matters like civilian evacuations from bombarded cities and prisoner exchanges. Mr. Zelensky has hinted that Ukraine is willing to reach a compromise, suggesting that it would be willing to preserve a neutral position if both the West and Moscow provided enforceable security guarantees. He has dismissed Moscow’s insistence that the country is demilitarised. He told Russian media on Sunday that any agreement with Russia would have to be approved by a national referendum held after all Russian forces had withdrawn to the positions they held before February 24.

While the Kremlin claims to be interested in seeking a negotiated solution, hosts on major Russian state television talk shows have recently stated that any agreement with Mr. Zelensky would be a humiliation for Russia, and that Ukraine should be integrated into Russia.


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