Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators were victims of suspected chemical poisoning at peace talks in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv earlier this month, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Abramovich, another Russian entrepreneur, and Ukraine’s MP Rustem Umerov fell sick after a round of negotiations on the afternoon of March 3. The group reportedly suffered from red eyes, painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands.
As per Bellingcat, the leading hypothesis is that the trio were victims of an "undefined chemical weapon.” Chemical weapons experts and doctors have said the symptoms were most consistent with variants of porphyrin, organophosphates, or bicyclic substances. Investigators also considered whether microwave irradiation was involved, but this appears to be less likely.
Abramovich has been attending various peace negotiations in Moscow, Belarus, Kyiv, and other venues after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advised President Joe Biden to hold off sanctions on him as he may prove a valuable go-between in facilitating peace talks, as per the WSJ.
Ukraine's foreign minister has reportedly since advised his colleagues attending negotiations with Russia to not eat or drink anything at the venues.
The three people consumed only chocolate and water in the hours before the symptoms appeared. A fourth member of the team who also consumed these did not experience symptoms.
Abramovich, the owner of British Premier League football club Chelsea FC, and others involved in the incident have since recovered and their lives aren’t in danger.
“I’m fine,” Umerov tweeted on March 28 after news of the suspected poisoning broke.
“This is my response to all the yellow news spreading around. Please do not trust any unverified information. We have an informational war ongoing as well. Stay safe. Slava Ukraini!”
The suspected poisoning has been blamed on Russian hardliners who wanted to disrupt the peace talks, although this has not been confirmed. Russia does, however, have a long history of using poisoning as a weapon against its political opponents. In late 2004, soon-to-be Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with hazardous amounts of TCDD, the most potent dioxin and a contaminant in Agent Orange, leaving him with permanent scarring to his face. In 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the British intelligence agencies, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury with Novichok nerve agent.
A fatal attack occurred on British soil in 2006 when former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Litvinenko, died of radiation poisoning after being dosed with polonium-210 at a London hotel. More recently, in 2020 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was the victim of attempted poisoning when Novichok was applied to the waistband of his boxer shorts. He survived the assassination attempt after the plane he was on when he was taken ill made an emergency landing and he got treatment.