Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning earlier this month after a meeting in Kyiv, the Wall Street Journal and the investigative outlet Bellingcat reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Abramovich, who accepted a Ukrainian request to help negotiate an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team, were affected, the WSJ report said.
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Ukrainian officials poured cold water on the report. Asked about the suspected poisoning, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said “there is a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories.” Rustem Umerov, another member of the negotiating team, urged people not to trust “unverified information.”
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
According to the WSJ report, Abramovich and the negotiators showed symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands.
Abramovich and the Ukrainian negotiators, including Crimean Tatar lawmaker Umerov, have since improved and their lives are not in danger, WSJ reported.
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A person familiar with the matter confirmed the incident to Reuters but said Abramovich had not allowed it to stop him working.
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Bellingcat said experts who examined the incident concluded “poisoning with an undefined chemical weapon” was the most likely cause.
Citing the experts, Bellingcat said the dosage and type of toxin used was not enough to be life-threatening, “and most likely was intended to scare the victims as opposed to cause permanent damage. The said they were not aware of who might have had an interest in an attack.”
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A US official said on Monday that intelligence suggests the sickening of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators was due to an environmental factor, not poisoning.
The US official told Reuters: “The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental,” adding: “Eg, not poisoning.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to elaborate.
Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
The Kremlin has said Abramovich played an early role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine but the process was now in the hands of the two sides’ negotiating teams. The two sides are due to meet in Istanbul on Tuesday for the first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks.
The West has imposed heavy sanctions on Russian billionaires such as Abramovich, Russian companies and Russian officials, in an attempt to force Putin to withdraw from Ukraine.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Natalia Zinets, David Gauthier-Villars, Mark Trevelyan and Abinaya Vijayaraghavan; Writing by Abinaya Vijayaraghavan and Matthias Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle)