Roman Abramovich, the oligarch close to Putin, mediator in the war in Ukraine

Roman Abramovich (2nd row center) during the Russia-Ukraine talks at Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul on March 29, 2022.

Tuesday, March 29, during the Ukrainian-Russian talks in Istanbul, the surprise of the day was to see Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire sanctioned by the European Union and the United Kingdom because of his closeness to Vladimir Putin, appear on the stage, in the role of the diplomatic mediator.

Seen from the opening of the meeting alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his diplomatic adviser Ibrahim Kalin, Mr. Abramovich seemed perfectly at ease, greeting the negotiators. His role was clarified a few hours later by Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s spokesman, who described the oligarch as “mediator” informal, accepted “by both parties”.

Yachts immune from sanctions

An announcement that is surprising to say the least, taking into account that Mr. Abramovich had claimed the day before that he had been the victim of a mysterious poisoning attempt while he was in kyiv a few weeks ago. for informal talks. The Kremlin has denied any involvement. From Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, for his part, advised “Anyone going to negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything and, preferably, to avoid touching surfaces. »

Read also: Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators suffered from possible ‘poisoning’, says ‘Wall Street Journal’

Abramovich’s low-key mission began in early March, when Ibrahim Kalin arranged for him to meet at a grand hotel in Istanbul with Rustem Umerov, a Ukrainian MP of Tatar origin, well known to the elite Islamo-conservative Turkish. The two men then went to kyiv where the oligarch met President Zelensky, who allegedly entrusted him with a message intended for Vladimir Putin.

The billionaire then multiplied the shuttles between Turkey, Ukraine and Russia. Shortly before, he took care to moor two of his luxury yachts – the Solaris and theEclipse – in the Turkish ports of Bodrum and Marmaris, free from the sanctions imposed by the EU and which Turkey is not obliged to apply.

His informal mediation is accepted by the Ukrainian side. In an interview published on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained that he had received offers of good offices from several oligarchs. “Some were ready to help rebuild Ukraine after the war”he explained, emphasizing in passing their desire to escape sanctions.

The smartest of them all

Nothing says that Roman Abramovich manages to influence the outcome of the conflict, despite his closeness to the master of the Kremlin. “He is one of the rare oligarchs of the 1990s to remain close to Putin”says a statement from the Foreign Office, published when his name appeared on the list of sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom, on March 10.

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