Within hours of Bellingcat’s claim 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 official, 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.
“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 UK-based outfit then said. Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev was behind the investigation, but could not 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 moved to the UK and bought the football club Chelsea is 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.
Bellingcat has blamed Russia for the alleged poisonings of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in 2018 and blogger Alexey Navalny in 2020, both supposedly using the deadly “novichok” nerve toxin but not killing their targets. The UK-based “open-source intelligence” collective has ties to US, UK, and other NATO governments and was designated a “foreign agent” by Russia in 2020.
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