Roman Abramovich, Russian billionaire and long-time owner of Chelsea Football Club, suffered what many believe to be poisoning at peace talks with Russia earlier this month. Abramovich, who is now recovered, experienced peeling skin along with constant painful and tearing eyes after the meeting on the Ukraine-Belarus border.
Two Ukrainian negotiators are also said to have shown the symptoms, and all are fully recovered. Experts in Ukraine reportedly concluded the most likely cause was “poisoning with an undefined chemical weapon,” according to investigative journalism group Bellingcat.
The group cited experts in saying that the dosage and toxin were not life-threatening but “intended to scare the victims.” According to Bellingcat, the three consumed only chocolate and water at the meeting, and a fourth team member also consumed them but was not affected. Abramovich is said to still be working with negotiations.
The Chelsea owner came under sanctions from the West after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, but the U.S. declined to follow suit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked the State Department to hold off on sanctions as Abramovich could play a role in negotiating a cease-fire.
Russia vehemently denies Abramovich was poisoned in the March 3 incident and calls the accusation a part of the “information war.” Some speculate that a third party attempted to derail the talks.
Interestingly, an anonymous U.S. official was quickly quoted by Reuters saying that the negotiator’s symptoms were not from poisoning, but rather caused by “environmental” factors. Some analysts believe that the West is trying to soften the charge, as using a chemical weapon could pull NATO into a retaliatory action.
As Ukrainian negotiators prepared to meet with their Russian counterparts in peace talks in Istanbul Tuesday, they received an unusual warning from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “I advise anyone going for negotiations with Russia not to eat or drink anything, preferably avoid touching surfaces.”
The new talks in Turkey are the first face-to-face negotiations between the countries in over two weeks. And while “don’t drink the water” is a common refrain for Americans traveling south of the border, it may be doubly wise for anyone breaking bread with Russian negotiators these days.