Roman Abramovich and some Ukrainian peace negotiators were allegedly poisoned at a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month.
According to a report by Wall Street Journal, the 55-year-old Russian billionaire and at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team developed symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands.
While the source of the attack was not confirmed, it was blamed on the suspected attack on hardliners in Moscow who wanted to sabotage talks to end the war.
However, Abramovich and the Ukrainian negotiators, who include Crimean Tatar lawmaker Rustem Umerov, have improved in their health and their lives aren’t in danger, the people said.
Meanwhile, sources told the WSJ that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who met with Abramovich, wasn’t affected. Zelensky’s spokesman said he had no information about any suspected poisoning.
Western experts who looked into the incident said it was hard to determine whether the symptoms were caused by a chemical or biological agent or by some sort of electromagnetic-radiation attack, the people familiar with the matter said.
The investigation, according to the report, was organized by Christo Grozev, an investigator with the Bellingcat open-source collective who concluded that a Kremlin team poisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent in 2020.
Grozev claimed he saw the images of the effects of the attack on Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators, but that a timely sample collection couldn’t be arranged in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, through which they were travelling, because these people were in a hurry to travel to Istanbul.
By the time a German forensic team with the required know-how was able to perform an examination, too much time had passed for the suspected poison to be detected, he said. “It was not intended to kill, it was just a warning,” Grozev said.
Abramovich, who has longstanding links to President Vladimir Putin, became involved in attempts to end the war in Ukraine shortly after Moscow launched the invasion on February 24, people familiar with the matter said.
His efforts are sometimes in conjunction with and sometimes parallel to a separate, official, negotiating track between Ukrainian and Russian representatives, they said. The Kyiv meeting where the suspected poisoning took place involved Abramovich, who is one of Russia’s wealthiest men, and members of the official Ukrainian negotiating team.
Zelensky has asked United States President, Joe Biden not to impose sanctions on Abramovich, because he is involved in the negotiations.
The European Union is sanctioning Abramovich because of the claim that his cash is oiling the machines of Russia’s war.
The United Kingdom had also sanctioned him over suspicions that Evraz, the steel giant he controls, is alleged to have supplied steel to produce Putin’s army of tanks.
Abramovich was seen in Belarus in late February as initial, official talks began between Kyiv and Moscow and has acted as a back channel for talks with the Kremlin, personally meeting with Putin on Ukraine, people familiar with the matter say.
His role in the talks varies regularly and he has tried to engage others, including former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.
Despite the suspected poisoning, Abramovich has decided to remain involved in the peace talks, a person close to him said.
Abramovich, on Monday, traveled to Istanbul, the source had said. People who have seen him recently say he has dedicated a lot of time to mediating between the warring parties.
The talks have failed to gain much traction, as the war has ground to a stalemate. Russia’s offensive has stalled on a number of fronts. And Ukraine, meanwhile, has lacked the resources to mount a significant counterattack to regain occupied territory.
A new round of negotiations is set for Tuesday in Turkey, as negotiators discuss both a potential political settlement to the war and immediate humanitarian issues, such as the evacuation of civilians from cities under bombardment and prisoner exchanges.
Zelensky has indicated that Ukraine is open to compromise, saying it would be willing to maintain a neutral status if it receives binding security guarantees from both the West and Moscow. He has ruled out Moscow’s demand to discuss demilitarization of the country.
Any agreement with Russia would have to be endorsed by a popular referendum held after all Russian forces withdraw to the positions they held before February 24, he told Russian media on Sunday.