Roman Abramovich did indeed participate in early peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, the Kremlin has admitted for the first time today.
The owner of Chelsea FC, currently under UK and EU sanctions, is said to have attended a first round of peace talks between the two sides in Belarus during the opening week of the war.
But now Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, has confirmed that he was there – although he no longer attends the summits left to diplomatic teams of the warring countries.
“He did participate in the initial phase,” Peskov said on Thursday. “Now the negotiations are between the two teams, the Russians and Ukrainians.”
Peskov spoke out after it emerged that President Volodymyr Zelensky had asked Joe Biden not to follow UK and EU sanctions against Abramovich because he could be “useful” as an intermediary in talks.
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was spotted in a VIP lounge last week as he left Tel Aviv for Istanbul. Details emerged on Wednesday about how Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky intervened to protect him from US sanctions
Abramovich’s luxury lifestyle is being pressured by EU and UK sanctions – and now the US has moved to prevent its Gulfstream plane from making international flights
Biden then pressured the Treasury Department to delay sanctions against the 55-year-old, who has not yet followed Britain and Europe by confiscating his assets and banning him from travel.
The revelations, reported by , explain how one of the world’s richest men has avoided US sanctions even as the United Kingdom and the European Union hit him with travel bans and asset freezes.
Sources familiar with calls told the Wall Street Journalthat Biden consulted Zelensky on a series of sanctions, including against Abramovich.
The White House declined to comment.
“We are not going to read private conversations between President Biden and President Zelensky,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
The Treasury Department also did not respond to a request for comment.
“For the negotiations, and in the interest of their success, it is not helpful to comment on the trial nor on Abramovich’s involvement,” his spokesman said.
“As mentioned earlier, at the request of Jewish organizations in Ukraine, among others, he has made every effort to support efforts aimed at restoring peace as quickly as possible.”
The Russian billionaire made his fortune buying discounted state resources after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the past month he was hit by a series of sanctions in the UK and the EU thanks to his close relationship with Putin, and rushed to divest before the asset freeze hit.
Abramovich’s Gulfstream — as pictured here — is valued at about $65 million and is effectively barred from international travel, according to the Commerce Department
The billionaire’s superyacht Solaris was spotted off Tivat, Montenegro early last week, but arrived amid an attack threat in Turkey
He put Chelsea up for sale, and the staff is said to have been ready for viewings at his 15-bedroom, $195 million (£150 million) mansion in London’s Kensington Palace Gardens, and a three-storey penthouse on Chelsea Waterfront.
Abramovich himself is believed to be in Moscow, having traveled there from Israel, where he is a national.
He was quickly investigated by the Ministry of Finance when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a month ago, according to a person familiar with the matter, and his assets were analyzed.
But it proceeded cautiously for fear that sanctions could affect global steel prices, as he owns a stake in Evraz PLC, which has steel plants in Oregon and Colorado.
At the same time, Ukrainian officials were wiretapping anyone with Russian contacts who could potentially act as an intermediary with Putin. That was reportedly also film producer Alexander Rodnyansky who in turn contacted Abramovich.
But his involvement is viewed with skepticism in some circles.
“Many people who claim to help have their own financial or geopolitical interests at stake,” said a Western diplomatic source.
US lawmakers have called on Washington to add its weight to the pressure on Abramovich.
Abramovich made his fortune buying discounted state assets after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was one of the oligarchs who made up Russia’s wealthy elite. The West has imposed sanctions on them in an effort to pressure Vladimir Putin
“We request that Abramovich be sanctioned urgently,” wrote members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Malinowski, co-chair of the Congressional Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus.
“His blood money is helping fuel Putin’s unprovoked and illegal war against Ukraine.”
It came after investigators at Boston’s State Street bank claimed that more than a billion dollars of his cash was funneled into the US through offshore companies between 2001 and 2016, BuzzFeed News reported.
And last week the government took a step, effectively barring one of Abramovich’s private jets from making international flights.
His $65 million Gulfstream G650 was on a list of 100 aircraft operated by Russian passenger and cargo carriers such as Aeroflot, AirBridge Cargo, Utair, Nordwind, Azur Air and Aviastar-TU.
Commerce Minister Gina Raimando said: “Today the Ministry of Commerce demonstrates the strength and scope of the actions we have taken in recent weeks in response to Russia’s brutal elective war against Ukraine.”
“We are publishing this list to inform the world – we will not allow Russian and Belarusian companies and oligarchs to travel with impunity in violation of our laws.”
Flight tracking data suggested the Gulfstream plane returned to Moscow last Tuesday.
Abramovich’s superyachts are also on the move — fleeing European waters to areas less likely to be hit by sanctions. My Solaris, worth $560 million, was docked in Barcelona two weeks ago and the Eclipse, worth $704 million, was in the British Virgin Islands, but both have since arrived in Turkish ports.