Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators were targets of a suspected poison attack, potentially by Moscow hardliners seeking to sabotage peace talks, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The billionaire businessman, recently slapped with sanctions by Western nations seeking to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine, has reportedly been shuttling between Kyiv, Moscow and other negotiation sites.

After a meeting in Ukraine’s capital, Abramovich and at least two senior Ukrainian negotiators developed symptoms including red eyes, painfully watery eyes, and peeling skin on their face and hands, the sources said according to the American newspaper.

It was not clear exactly who may have conducted the apparent attack, but those targeted blamed hardliners in Moscow seeking to disrupt ongoing talks to end the war, the Journal said.

The conditions of Abramovich and the other negotiators have improved and their lives are not in danger, the people said.

“It was not intended to kill, it was just a warning,” Christo Grozev, an investigator with open-source collective Bellingcat, said in the Journal after studying the incident.

Grozev, who determined after an investigation that Kremlin agents poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent in 2020, saw images of the effects of the apparent Abramovich attack, but no samples could be collected in time for forensic experts to detect poison, the paper reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that his government had received offers of support from Russian businessmen, including Abramovich, who owns and is seeking to sell Chelsea Football Club and has had longstanding links to Putin.

Zelensky told journalists that the businessmen had said they wanted to “do something” and “help somehow” to de-escalate Russia’s military assault on Ukraine that has left thousands dead.

Zelensky did not mention a suspected poisoning, and according to the Journal a presidential spokesman had no information about such an attack.

Abramovich aides have not responded to an AFP request for comment about the alleged poisoning.

Western countries including the United States and the EU have imposed unprecedented sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including placing oligarchs and other individuals close to Putin on sanctions lists.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported Zelensky asked US President Joe Biden to hold off on sanctioning Abramovich, arguing that the Russian billionaire could play a role in negotiating a peace deal with Moscow.

AFP

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