The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was present during peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey because he is working to “enable certain contacts” between the two sides.
“Roman Abramovich is involved in enabling certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “He is not an official member of the delegation… but nevertheless he is also present today in Istanbul from our side.”
Peskov said that Abramovich’s presence was also approved by the Ukrainian side. The Russian billionaire and owner of Britain’s Chelsea Football Club has been sanctioned by the UK and the EU, but the US has held off, reportedly at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Abramovich was spotted at the peace talks after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Russian billionaire and two members of Ukraine’s delegation experienced symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting on March 3. But a US official and a Ukrainian official denied the report.
A US official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that intelligence shows the sickening of Abramovich and the Ukrainians was due to environmental factors. “The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental,” the official said, adding: “E.g., not poisoning.”
Ihor Zhovkva, an official who works in Zelensky’s office, told BBC that members of the Ukrainian delegation were “fine” and that one said the report was “false.” Russia has also denied that the report was true. “This is part of information sabotage, part of an information war,” Peskov said.
The talks in Turkey that Abramovich attended on Tuesday appeared to make some progress. After the negotiations, Russia’s military said it was “drastically” reducing military operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, although fighting continues in the east. Ukraine presented a potential peace deal to the Russian side that Moscow will now review.