ISTANBUL ( Associated Press) – Owner of football club. Ally of Vladimir Putin. Sanctioned oligarch. Can diplomatic intermediary be added to Roman Abramovich’s CV?
The 55-year-old billionaire swapped the skybox chair he once proudly held at his beloved Chelsea football club in Britain for a place on the sidelines of negotiations between Kiev and Moscow aimed at ending Russia’s bloody war in the To end Ukraine..
The silver-haired oil and aluminum magnate stood in the background on Tuesday as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered a hall full of negotiators in a government building next to the 19th-century Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, on the coast of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
It was left to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to try to explain Abramovich’s role.
Abramovich “ensures certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides,” Peskov said, but is not an official member of the delegation. He said both sides approved of his role.
However, Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain, Vadym Prystaiko, said: ‘I have no idea what Mr. Abramovich does not claim or do. He is not part of the negotiating team. “
The talks apparently took a cautious step towards scaling down Moscow’s offensive when Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Russia would “fundamentally” cut back on operations. near Ukraine’s capital Kiev and a northern city in a move to build confidence.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two parties had made “the most significant progress” since the start of negotiations during their meeting in Istanbul.
Just being in the room in Istanbul is a remarkable turnaround for Abramovich, who has been approved by the British government and the European Union, although he is conspicuous by his absence from a list of oligarchs approved by the United States.
Abramovich seems to have established contacts high in Ukrainian government circles to go along with his long-standing ties with the Kremlin.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday that Kiev had received “signals” with offers of help from Abramovich and others, along with requests to be spared from sanctions.
“Some of them were ready to help Ukraine recover after the war,” he said, before quoting their offers: “‘We are ready to give money, we are ready to move business to Ukraine. We “Stay in England or Switzerland now, we would like to do that. Is it possible not to be on the sanctions list?”
Abramovich’s presence in Istanbul was all the more surprising as it came a day after reports that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks.
The investigative newspaper Bellingcat reported on Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian deputies developed symptoms of nerve agent poisoning after attending talks on March 3, but all apparently recovered.
The British Foreign Secretary said in a statement on Tuesday that “the allegations are very worrying.” The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not comment on the report.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also expressed his concern, telling the 1 + 1 TV channel: “I advise anyone going to the negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything and preferably avoid touching any surfaces. “
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had no details on the poisoning reports, but that the report in that effect “raises concerns because Russia has a real record,” a reference to previous poisoning cases blamed on Moscow word.
Peskov dismissed the reports as “part of the information war. Of course, these reports do not correspond to reality. “
Abramovich’s press representative had no comment on the poisoning reports or on his involvement in Russia-Ukraine talks.
Abramovich amassed a fortune in Russia’s oil and aluminum industries following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2005, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom paid $ 13 billion for the Sibneft oil company controlled by Abramovich, which powers Putin’s Kremlin. set to regain state influence in the lucrative energy industry.
In announcing sanctions against Abramovich, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government called him a “pro-Kremlin oligarch” with an estimated fortune of more than 9 billion pounds ($ 12 billion) to be punished for his alliance with Putin. Abramovich is also linked to the “destabilization” and threat of Ukraine.
It was a further fall of favor for Abramovich, whose $ 2 billion investment in Chelsea over 19 years transformed the English Premier League team into a force in European football, earning him the nicknames “Chelski” and the “Roman Empire”. has.
He is forced to sell the club after its assets were frozen as part of a crackdown on oligarchs following Russia’s invasion on 24 February. The Premier League also disqualified him from managing the West London club and being a director. Abramovich said the proceeds from the club’s sale, which is subject to government approval, would go to a foundation he started for victims of the war in Ukraine.
He has been largely absent from Britain since 2018, when he withdrew an application to renew his visa amid a crackdown on wealthy Russians after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blamed Russia for the two’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation that Moscow denied.
He took Israeli citizenship in 2018, although it is not clear how much time he will spend in the country. There are rumors that he has been in Israel several times since the outbreak of the war, according to the movements of planes allegedly belonging to him. He was spotted at Ben-Gurion Airport about two weeks ago.
The Solaris, a yacht belonging to Abramovich, was moored in Turkey’s Aegean seaside resort Bodrum earlier this month, Turkish media reports said. NATO member Turkey has not joined other members of the alliance in sanctions against Russia.
Corder reported from The Hague, The Netherlands. Associated Press authors Danica Kirka in London, Matthew Lee in Washington and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.
Follow the Associated Press’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine