According to the Wall Street Journal, Russian millionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators were the targets of a suspected poison attempt, possibly by Moscow hardliners seeking to derail peace talks.
The billionaire businessman has reportedly been shuttling between Kyiv, Moscow, and other negotiation sites after being slapped with sanctions by Western nations seeking to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
According to AFP, a source familiar with the situation confirmed the report, saying, “Unfortunately, what the Wall Street Journal reported happened.”
According to sources cited by the American newspaper, Abramovich and at least two senior Ukrainian negotiators developed symptoms such as red eyes, painfully watery eyes, and peeling skin on their face and hands after a meeting in Ukraine’s capital.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak did not confirm the incident, instead advising to follow “only the official information.”
“Today is business as usual for all members of the bargaining team,” he said. “There is a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories concerning the information in the media.”
It was unclear who might have carried out the alleged attack, but those targeted blamed hardliners in Moscow for trying to sabotage ongoing peace talks, according to the Journal.
According to the sources, Abramovich’s and the other negotiators’ situations have improved and their lives are no longer in danger.
After investigating the incident, Christo Grozev, an investigator with open-source collective Bellingcat, said in the Journal, “It wasn’t intended to kill, it was only a warning.”
Grozev, who discovered in 2020 that Kremlin agents poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent after an investigation, saw images of the alleged Abramovich attack, but no samples could be collected in time for forensic experts to detect poison, according to the paper.
The three men suffering from symptoms “consumed only chocolate and water in the hours before the symptoms appeared,” according to Bellingcat on Twitter.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said on Sunday that his government had received offers of help from Russian businessmen, including Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club and has long had ties to Putin.
The businessmen had said they wanted to “do something” and “help somehow” to de-escalate Russia’s military assault on Ukraine, which has left thousands dead, Zelensky told journalists.
According to the Journal, Zelensky made no mention of a possible poisoning, and a presidential spokesman had no knowledge of such an attack.
Western countries, particularly the United States and the European Union, have levied extraordinary sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, including sanctioning oligarchs and other figures close to Putin.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Zelensky encouraged US President Joe Biden to defer penalizing Abramovich because the Russian billionaire may help negotiate a peace accord with Moscow.