Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was pictured at peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul on Tuesday, just weeks after he and two Ukrainian negotiators were reportedly victims of a suspected poisoning at previous talks as efforts to broker a ceasefire continue.
Abramovich is in Turkey attending the first face-to-face peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in weeks, according to Reuters, citing three sources.
Images and footage from the event posted on social media show the oligarch speaking with Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan, standing in the background as he greeted Ukrainian and Russian delegates and sat wearing translation headphones.
It is unclear in what capacity Abramovich is acting and though the Kremlin has previously acknowledged the oligarch played an early role in peace talks, it also said talks were now in the hands of official delegates from both countries.
Abramovich’s involvement comes after he and two Ukrainian negotiators were apparently poisoned at a previous round of negotiations in Kyiv on March 3, reportedly suffering eye irritation and peeling skin.
U.S. officials reportedly doubt that Abramovich may have been poisoned.
Ukraine’s foreign minister advised those attending talks this week “not to eat or drink anything” and to avoid touching any surfaces, according to the Telegraph.
Abramovich’s involvement in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine had been speculated for weeks amid reports the billionaire had been shuttling between Kyiv, Moscow and Istanbul as one of several powers attempting to broker peace. Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club, has been subject to Western sanctions—but not from the U.S.—over his purported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Abramovich denies having strong connections with Putin and says he has not done anything to warrant sanctions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously urged President Joe Biden not to sanction Abramovich due to his ability to act as a potential intermediary, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Abramovich’s presence at peace talks gives reason to question the strenuous and longstanding denials about his close connections to Putin made by his lawyers, the Guardian said. “That suggests the nature of his relationship with Putin has either changed dramatically in the course of the last month, or that Abramovich’s lawyers were somehow previously mistaken.”
$7.9 Billion. That’s Abramovich’s net worth, according to Forbes’ estimate.