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Kremlin says Abramovich played early role in Ukraine peace talks

Randy Mancini 30 Mar 24
FILE PHOTO: Chelsea v Sunderland - Barclays Premier League
FILE PHOTO: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich after the game. Football Soccer - Chelsea v Sunderland - Barclays Premier League - Stamford Bridge - 19/12/15 Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic /File Photo

March 24, 2022

LONDON (Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich played an early role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, but the process was now in the hands of the two sides’ negotiating teams.

Abramovich was asked by Ukraine to help mediate because of his background in Russia, where he made a fortune in the chaotic 1990s period of post-communist privatisation.

“He did take part at the initial stage,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Now the negotiations are between the two teams, the Russians and Ukrainians.”

Russia and Ukraine are talking about a peace deal while their soldiers kill each other after the Feb. 24 Russian invasion but the question of territory has threatened to derail negotiations. The talks began on Feb. 28.

In an attempt to force President Vladimir Putin to back down over Ukraine, the West has imposed sanctions on Russian billionaires such as Abramovich, Russian companies and Russian officials, effectively cutting the Russian economy off from the West.

Russia says the response of the West shows it is both decadent and deceitful and has bluntly warned that the post-1991 experiment in looking Westwards is over: from now on Moscow will look to China, India and other countries.

Abramovich, who is Jewish and has Israeli citizenship, was one of the most powerful businessmen who earned fabulous fortunes after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

A commodity trader who thrived in the post-Soviet disorder of the 1990s under then-President Boris Yeltsin, Abramovich acquired stakes in the Sibneft oil company, Rusal aluminium producer and Aeroflot airline that were later sold.

Under Putin, Abramovich served as governor of the remote Arctic region of Chukotka in Russia’s Far East before buying Chelsea Football Club in 2003.

The West’s reaction to the war in Ukraine, though, has hit him globally. Abramovich has been sanctioned by Britain, the European Union and Canada but not the United States.

Britain said Abramovich had had a close relationship with Putin for decades.

Some Russian businessmen, though, say the West is naive if it thinks billionaires such as Abramovich can influence the Kremlin on questions of geopolitics.

The real powerbrokers of modern Russia, they say, are no longer the oligarchs who rose out of the ashes of the Soviet Union but a new generation of former spies with close ties to Putin.

Abramovich met former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder earlier this month as part of a search for peace, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Abramovich was spotted in the VIP lounge at Tel Aviv airport before he jetted into Moscow from Istanbul on March 15, his second trip for the month. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters he was not in Moscow to meet with Putin on that trip.

The oligarch, who owns a majority stake in Russian steelmaker Evraz, has moved two superyachts together worth $1.2 billion to ports in Turkey in recent days. Sources told Reuters that he was one of other wealthy Russians looking to invest in Turkey.

Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Russia had to defend against the “genocide” of Russian-speaking people by Ukraine.

Ukraine says it is fighting for its existence against a Russian imperial-style land grab and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense.

The West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia that the Kremlin says amount to a declaration of economic war by the United States and its allies. China has called for calm.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Nick Macfie)