Ukraine’s foreign minister has warned peace negotiators not to eat or drink during talks with Russian counterparts today.
The warning comes after sources revealed that Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich and the Ukrainian peace negotiators were suffering from symptoms of poisoning during meetings in early March, including red eyes, constant and painful tearing and peeling of the skin on hands and faces.
The Independent Knows that the Chelsea FC owner was temporarily blinded for several hours after the poisoning but recovered quickly.
The negotiators of Ukraine and Russia will start new face-to-face peace talks in Turkey today.
“I advise everyone who conducts negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink and if possible not to touch any surfaces,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview on national television.
However, senior Ukrainian officials have downplayed the story, Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the president’s office, told the BBC news hour that “the members of the Ukrainian delegation are doing well; I was in contact with one of them and they said the story was false.”
Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak took a similar line, saying “there is a lot of speculation, different conspiracy theories,” while Rustem Umerov, another member of the negotiating team, urged people not to trust “unconfirmed information.”
Mr Abramovich accepted a request from Ukraine in late February to help negotiate an end just days after Vladimir Putin’s invasion began, and is said to still be interested in mediation despite the incident.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that Mr Abramovich was involved in talks with Russia.
Cambridge University professor Alexander Rodnyansky told Times Radio: “He played a role, he certainly spoke to the Russian leader. And therein lies the potential value.”
A government minister called the alleged poisoning of Mr Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators a “worrying development”.
Tory MP Will Quince told Sky News the UK will try to “get the facts” surrounding the claims.
Asked if Britain would heed that advice, Mr Quince said: “As much as there is skepticism around the world as to whether these peace talks will be successful, I desperately hope they will be.”
Mr Kuleba said of the talks in Turkey: “We are not trading with people, land or sovereignty.”
“The minimum program will be humanitarian issues and the maximum program is to reach an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said on national television.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “The allegations are very worrying. The UK will continue to help by imposing tough sanctions on Putin’s regime and providing defensive and humanitarian support to put Ukraine in the best possible negotiating position.”
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