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Negotiators allegedly poisoned during Russia–Ukraine talks
A peace negotiator from the Ukrainian delegation, lawmaker Rustem Umerov, was poisoned in early March and temporarily unable to participate in the talks with Russia, investigative outlet Agentstvo reported on Monday, March 28, citing three sources from both parties.
Agentstvo’s sources said that Umerov was poisoned during talks in Kyiv, but survived the attack and “feels fine.” Other negotiators were also said to have taken ill. It was stressed that Russian-created nerve agent Novichok is not believed to have been involved.
Update. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, sources told The Wall Street Journal later on Monday. Contrary to initial reports, a spokesperson for Abramovich later told the BBC that he has not commented on the story.
Ukrainian authorities are said to be conducting a classified investigation of the incident. Another source familiar with members of the Ukrainian delegation told Agentstvo that the potential poisoning incident may be why subsequent negotiations have been conducted via video link. A source from the Russian side refuted this information, claiming that it was only a matter of logistical difficulties.
Kremlin-affiliated media launched a smear campaign against Umerov in early March, Agentstvo reported. The Ukrainian lawmaker was accused of being a “U.S. spy” who was intentionally drawing out peace talks. Eivaz Umerov, the head of a pro-Kremlin Crimea Tatar organization, mentioned this in an interview with RIA Novosti. His comments were subsequently printed in other publications.
Rustem Umerov himself has denied reports of his poisoning. “I’m fine,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “Don’t read Soviet newspapers before lunch.” His post commented on “questionable media outlets.” The deputy stated that “the information war rages on” and urged people not to trust “unverified sources of information”.
Agentstvo was also provided details regarding the death of another Ukrainian negotiator who participated in the first round of peace talks, Denis Kireev. Initial reports of his death appeared in the Ukrainian media on March 5, stating that the Security Service of Ukraine (the SBU) had suspected him of treason and that he was killed while being arrested. Ukrainian authorities later clarified that Kireev died while carrying out a “special assignment.”
Agentstvo wrote that Kireev is thought to have been killed by members of the Ukrainian special forces after counter-intelligence officers documented evidence of his contact with Russian nationals. According to one Russian source, the intelligence officer had been personally ordered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate contacts with Russian security forces.
“But then there was a ‘misunderstanding.’ The special forces were not aware of it and ‘liquidated’ Kireev during his arrest. The article quotes a Ukrainian source confirming that “there’d been a mixup.”
Zelensky’s Office has yet to comment on Agentstvo’s report.
Update. Asked about the alleged poisoning on Monday, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak — an advisor to Zelensky’s chief of staff — played down the report, saying “there’s a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories.”
Translated by Helen Ferguson
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