Ukraine-Russia: Chelsea oligarch Roman Abramovich suffered suspected 'poisoning' at peace talks in Kyiv

Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and members of the Ukrainian peace delegation reportedly suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month.

Russian oligarch Mr Abramovich, as well as at least two members of the Ukrainian team, which included Crimean Tatar politician Rustem Umerov, are said to have developed symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, according to sources cited in US newspaper the Wall Street Journal.

In the report, a person close to Mr Abramovich, who said at the beginning of this month he planned to sell Chelsea FC “in the best interest of the club”, said it was not clear who had targeted the group. The condition of those affected are said to have improved and their lives are not believed to be in danger.

Mr Abramovich and the Ukrainian negotiators have since improved and their lives aren’t in danger, the sources said. The oligarch, who has been targeted with sanctions against wealthy Russians, is understood to have been flying between Istanbul, Moscow and Kyiv recently to relay messages between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich is believed to be among those poisoned.

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A spokesman for Mr Zelensky said he had no information about any suspected poisoning.

Western experts who looked into the incident reportedly said it was hard to determine whether the symptoms were caused by a chemical or biological agent or by some sort of electromagnetic-radiation attack.

The details emerged as the UK and Australia announced joint plans to supply humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the fighting.

British defence intelligence analysts said on Monday that Russia has gained most ground in southern Ukraine, in the vicinity of Mariupol where heavy fighting continued as Mr Putin's forces attempts to capture the strategically important port.

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But the Ministry of Defence said logistical shortages, a lack of momentum and low morale were hitting the Russian invaders, combined with "aggressive fighting by the Ukrainians".

Downing Street said Boris Johnson was due to speak to the Ukrainian President again on Monday afternoon.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman, speaking while the call was ongoing, said: "The Prime Minister provided an update on the supply of defensive lethal aid and also received an update on negotiations as well."

He said: "Obviously, he updated that negotiations were ongoing and they discussed the importance of holding Putin to account for his actions rather than just his words."

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The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Johnson "believes that Putin must fail in Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine must be restored" ahead of the latest round of scheduled talks between the two sides' negotiators on Tuesday.

"Obviously it would be for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government to decide on the right approach to negotiations – we will support them in that," the spokesman said.

"But it is not for the UK or any other country to seek to impose its will on the Ukrainian government as to what it should accept in those negotiations."

The position comes after US president Joe Biden said Mr Putin “cannot remain in power” – an unscripted comment the White House was forced to row back on, insisting he was not calling for regime change in the Kremlin.

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In response to the American president's comments, the Downing Street spokesman said: "It is up to the Russian people who should be governing them."

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has warned Mr Putin's forces are abducting Ukrainian politicians, activists and journalists as Russia fails to meet its military objectives.

She condemned the "abhorrent tactic" following work by Ukrainian human rights group ZMINA, which claimed to have identified dozens of individuals who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.

Ms Truss said Mr Putin was resorting to "desperate measures" as British military analysts said Russia's invasion had suffered from a lack of momentum, poor logistics and low morale.

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The foreign secretary said: "Putin continues to use abhorrent tactics against the Ukrainian people, including abducting innocent civilians.”

ZMINA said it had documented 39 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in the Ukrainian territories newly occupied by Russia.

Mr Zelensky has signalled he is prepared to offer a series of concessions to Russia to end the fighting.

Ukraine could declare neutrality and offer guarantees about its non-nuclear status as part of a peace deal, Mr Zelensky suggested, but he stressed the desire to ensure the country's "territorial integrity" – stopping the Kremlin from carving it up.

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Downing Street said the UK would support Ukraine's negotiating position, but Mr Johnson firmly believes Mr Putin "must fail".

More than 20,000 applications have meanwhile been made to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but despite being repeatedly pressed the refugee minister declined to say how many Ukrainians had so far arrived.

In the face of frustration among peers, Tory frontbencher Lord Harrington would only say the Government "will be publishing the answer to that question very soon".

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He was responding to an urgent question in the Lords on the current take-up of the programme.

Lord Harrington said: "More than 20,000 applications have been received for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and we will be providing further information in due course."

Independent crossbencher Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who has applied to take in refugees, said: "I think the lack of information is extremely worrying. We have an ethical obligation of non-abandonment having given a commitment to stand with Ukraine and to offer sanctuary.

"Does the Government recognise that the visa process is causing great distress to already traumatised Ukrainians who have experienced cumulative losses, pervasive existential terror and mass bereavements, and are now increasingly at risk?"

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