Following being shuttled between Moscow, Belarus, and other negotiating venues, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov and another peace negotiator developed symptoms of being poisoned after a meeting in Kyiv on March 3.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which was one of the first news outlets to break the story, Abramovich, Umerov, and the unnamed Ukrainian negotiator developed symptoms of poisoning. They experienced painful tearing and peeling of the skin on their faces and hands and had red eyes. Later, it was revealed that the Russian oligarch had been blinded for a few hours and couldn’t eat properly.
The assertion came from investigative, open-source collective Bellingcat and Christo Grozev, who stated on Twitter that the three members of the Ukrainian delegation that attended peace talks on March 3 to 4 were poisoned. Bellingcat asserted that it had made the observation based on remote and on-site examinations. They had consulted two chemical weapons experts who determined that the symptoms were consistent with porphyrin, organophosphates, or bicyclic substances. However, the exact chemical possibly used could not be determined as there were no special laboratories to examine the three men properly.
They also reported that the three men also consumed chocolate and water before the symptoms appeared and that the fourth member of the delegation did not experience any symptoms.
Bellingcat can confirm that three members of the delegation attending the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia on the night of 3 to 4 March 2022 experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons. One of victims was Russian entrepreneur Roman Abramovich. https://t.co/DJaZ4CoL8J— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) March 28, 2022
“Bellingcat can confirm that three members of the delegation attending the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia on the night of 3 to March 4, 2022, experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons. One of [the] victims was Russian entrepreneur Roman Abramovich,” the group said.
Furthermore, they also said that the dosage and type of toxin were insufficient to cause death and that the intentions of the individual or group behind the alleged poisoning only intended to scare or warn the Ukrainian negotiators.
“It was not intended to kill. It was just a warning,” Grozev said to WSJ.
Why was Abramovich Functioning as a Negotiator?
Abramovich, a well-known Russian oligarch who was set to be sanctioned by the US, was vouched for by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He directly called President Biden and asked to exclude the billionaire from the sanctions as Abramovich could prove to be a good asset as a peace negotiator for Ukraine.
It can be remembered that the British government had Abramovich’s assets frozen as part of the UK’s government response to the Ukrainian crisis because the Russian oligarch had close ties with Putin. The order applied to all his assets, including his ownership of the very well-known football team in Europe, Chelsea, which he tried to sell as fast as he could but could not as news of his sanctions broke.
With his assets on hold, the club couldn’t sell tickets and merchandise and function as an organization. This left Chelsea in limbo. However, it was ultimately allowed to play and complete its season through a license issued by the British government. However, they did keep Chelsea’s spending at a minimum for it to be operational and prevent Abramovich from obtaining any money from the organization.
Was it Really Poisoning?
Despite this report of them being allegedly poisoned, they have been said to be in better condition and were not in any sort of life-threatening situation. However, sources from the WSJ alleged that the poison attack was from “hard-liners” in Moscow who wanted to sabotage the peace talks. Furthermore, experts of chemical and biological weaponry stated that it was “difficult” to determine whether the symptoms were caused by chemical or biological weapons or even some form of electromagnetic-radiation attack.
When asked about the suspected poisoning, Ukrainian negotiator and Adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Mykhailo Podolyak said that “there is a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories.”
A US official also stated to Reuters that it was not poisoning that led to such symptoms but rather an unknown environmental factor, saying that “The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental,” and declined to elaborate further.
Despite what had happened to Abramovich, he stated that he would remain involved with the Russo-Ukrainian peace talks to mediate. He continues to do this as he continually tries to distance himself from the UK’s view of being close with Putin. He was one of the businessmen that grew outrageously richer following the 90s privatization movement in Russia.
Abramovich even flew personally from Istanbul to Moscow to deliver a handwritten note from Zelensky that contained the list of terms Ukraine considered feasible for the two countries to end the war. However, Putin was reportedly not amused with the handwritten note and instructed Abramovich to tell Zelensky that “I will thrash them.”
However, “thrashing” Ukraine does not seem to be the reality on the ground in Ukraine at the moment. The Russians were observed to be moving into defensive mode as they were losing key areas integral to its invasion of Ukraine. More so, they had just lost their elite 4th Guards Tank Division to the Ukrainians, which was earlier reported to be lacking in maintenance, supply, and morale. The war is largely seen to be swinging in Ukraine’s favor, with most military analysts stating that Ukraine and Russia are currently at a stalemate.
While it is unknown who was behind the alleged attack, the men refused to accuse anybody as it may hamper the progress of the peace talks. However, it can be remembered that Biden, along with the West, had warned the world about Russia potentially using chemical and biological weapons during the NATO meeting in Brussels. This would not be a surprise as Russia is known to have used chemical weapons against its enemies and political opponents, one allegedly being Alexei Navalny in 2020.
New rounds of negotiations are set to take place on Tuesday in Ankara to discuss a potential end to the war. However, given Putin’s concerns about his imagery and political control in Russia, it is unlikely that the talks would generate anything substantive.