Within hours of a claim from Bellingcat, on Monday, that Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich and two Ukrainian negotiators may have been poisoned by Moscow to stall peace talks in Ukraine, the US government has reportedly voiced doubt.
Intelligence indicates that the symptoms allegedly suffered by Abramovich and two Ukrainian officials involved in peace talks with Russia may be due to environmental factors instead, Reuters reported, citing a US government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental, not poisoning,” said the alleged insider, without elaborating.
Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the three men had “suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning” that included “red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands,” citing people familiar with the matter.
The investigation was organized by Christo Grozev of Bellingcat, which has previously claimed Russia’s involvement in the alleged 2018 poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in the UK and of activist Alexey Navalny in 2020. Russia has designated it a “foreign agent,” citing the concern’s ties to Western intelligence agencies and its funding from the US, British and Dutch governments.
“Bellingcat can confirm that three members of the delegation attending the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia on the night of 3 to 4 March 2022 experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons,” the Dutch-based outfit then said. Grozev said he couldn’t get German experts to analyze the samples in time to show any traces of chemicals, according to the WSJ.
Others have been skeptical of the claim as well. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak, who is involved in the talks, told Reuters “there is a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories,” while Rustem Umerov, allegedly one of the people affected, said people should not trust “unverified information” and that he was fine. Abramovich has yet to officially address the report.
The Russian oil magnate who bought the football club Chelsea was rumored to be involved in a “back channel” between the Kremlin and Kiev to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, but was placed on the Western sanctions list anyway.