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Everything we know about the alleged poisoning on March 3 According to Bellingcat, the BBC, and the Wall Street Journal, Roman Abramovich and two other negotiators suffered symptoms that point to chemical attacks.
Three people who took part in talks between Russia and Ukraine early this month experienced symptoms consistent with those of chemical weapons poisoning, reported Bellingcat on March 28. According to the investigative outlet, one of the people affected was businessman Roman Abramovich.
Bellingcat learned that both Abramovich and another Russian businessman, whose name was not disclosed, met in Kyiv with Rustem Umerov, a member of Ukraine's negotiating team. The meeting, according to Bellingcat, began on the afternoon of March 3 and lasted until 10 pm. At the end of the meeting, all three men experienced sharp pain in their eyes and skin inflammation. The symptoms lasted until the following morning.
According to Bellingcat, experts concluded that the symptoms were likely the result of poisoning by chemical weapons, though the exact type of chemical is unknown. Another possibility, though less likely, is microwave irradiation. Bellingcat reported that none of the men had consumed anything except water and chocolate before the onset of symptoms.
If this was indeed a chemical weapons attack, the person responsible most likely wanted to scare the men without causing lasting damage, an expert told Bellingcat, citing the symptoms and the types of toxin likely to cause them. The symptoms suggest poisoning by porphyrin, organophosphates, or bicyclic substances. Determining the exact chemical used wasn’t possible since it would require a laboratory analysis.
The BBC Russian Service reported that Roman Abramovich completely lost his vision for a time, that his “skin was peeling,” and that these symptoms lasted several days. According to the Service, Abramovich and Umerov’s symptoms appeared only when they arrived in Istanbul from Kyiv. According to Bellingcat, if this was indeed a poisoning, it likely happened when they were still in Kyiv, immediately after the meeting.
“We considered both the Ukrainian and Russian sides [as potentially responsible],” a source close to Abramovich told the BBC. The victims haven’t reached a specific conclusion about who might have poisoned them. According to the source, one theory is that the substance could have been sprayed into the air.
A source from the BBC News confirmed that Abramovich experienced symptoms consistent with those of poisoning. As of Tuesday, Abramovich felt fine and continued to participate in talks, with the goal of bringing an end to the war in Ukraine, said the source.
The Wall Street Journal also wrote about the incident, including that Abramovich and two other people had suffered. The WSJ noted that Abramovich had previously met in Kyiv with Volodymyr Zelensky, though the Ukrainian president did not experience any symptoms of poisoning. According to the Journal, the incident could be an attempt by the Kremlin to disrupt talks on ending the war and halt their progress.
The Ukrainian President’s Office did not confirm any information about the incident. “All members of the negotiating team are working as usual today. A lot of speculative information, including various conspiracy theories and elements of information games, is being shared in the information field right now. So I’ll repeat once more: All members of the negotiating team are working as usual today,” said Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior advisor to the Ukrainian president.
American intelligence sources do not believe there was a poisoning attempt, reported Reuters, citing an unnamed American official. The participants’ symptoms could have been caused by “environmental factors” rather than poisoning, according to the source. They didn’t specify what kind of “environmental factor” might cause these symptoms.
The incident was first reported by journalists from Agentstvo — but they only reported on the symptoms suffered by Rustem Umerov. According to the journalists, his symptoms occurred in Kyiv. Agentstvo reported that Umerov had recovered and was feeling “adequate.” Umerov himself refuted reports of the incident and called for people not to believe “unverified sources of information.” “Everything’s fine with me. ‘Don’t read Soviet newspapers before lunch,’” he wrote on Facebook.
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