Why is Abramovich in the peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia? The reasons why the famous billionaire Chelsea owner has become a key figure for peace is one of the mysteries of this war
Photographs of the Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul, featuring a smiling Roman Abramovich have gone around the world. The billionaire owner of UK-sanctioned Chelsea is not officially part of the Russian delegation, but has apparently played an important role behind the scenes, traveling between Moscow, Kiev and Istanbul since Russia invaded Ukraine.
But what’s the billionaire soccer club owner doing mediating a peace process? His role remains one of the great mysteries of this war, but some clues as to why he has been chosen are already known.
The still owner of Chelsea enjoys the confidence of Putin’s closest circle, has important international relations, a large fortune with which to promise investments and an incalculable media power that has given him to be the visible face of one of the big clubs in the Premier League.
The Press Secretary of the Russian Presidency confirmed this weekend that the Russian oligarch “participated in the initial phase” of the negotiations. “Yes, he took part in the initial phase” of organizing the talks, Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said. The Kremlin further confirms negotiations between Ukraine and the United States involving the Russian oligarch.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski asked U.S. President Joe Biden to leave Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich off Washington’s sanctions list in the hope that the oligarch could help mediate between Kiev and Moscow, according to the report that has surfaced.
The request was made during a call between the two leaders, The Wall Street Journal advances, citing people with knowledge of the matter. The White House was ready to announce sanctions against Abramovich similar to those introduced by the UK but were stopped in their tracks.
After Zelenski’s call, the National Security Council directed the Treasury Department to postpone the announcement, the report said. While the EU and UK went ahead with their sanctions against Abramovich, Biden is keeping any decision frozen.
But why did the Ukrainian president choose him? Important relations with Kiev, his ease of reaching out to Putin, his advocacy of the Jewish cause and the promise of millions in investments after the war would be behind this decision.
Zelenski is Jewish and his grandfather, a Soviet fighter against the Nazis, lost three brothers during the Holocaust. Moreover, his resistance to the Russian invasion, which Putin says seeks to “denazify” Ukraine, has made him a kind of Jewish national hero, inside and outside Israel.
Abramovich is a staunch supporter of Jewish causes in Russia and Israel. Abramovich’s neighborhood in Tel Aviv has received substantial donations for various projects and the Russian oligarch has Israeli citizenship. A not insignificant detail for the Ukrainian president.
In addition, his relationship with Turkey would also have facilitated his seat at the table in Istanbul. It is not for nothing that this country has allowed him to put some of his fortune in Turkey – his two mega-yachts are berthed in the Turkish ports of Marmaris and Bodrum and there is speculation that he is interested in taking over Goztepe FC, which, like Chelsea in 2003, has not won a league title since the 1950s. The club from the city of Izmir was founded in 1925 and plays in the Turkish Super League.
As a source in the Ukrainian delegation confirmed to Ukrayinska Pravda media outlet, Abramovich had positioned himself as a neutral intermediary and his main function was to “convey our position to his boss in close language.”
In Kiev, Abramovich is seen, at the very least, as a serious interlocutor to whom Putin listens. Russia’s official negotiating team is composed mainly of second-tier officials who are not considered influential, so Putin may have selected Abramovich as a shadow interlocutor with the Ukrainians, a channel away from the official negotiating table.
It should also be understood that Abramovich’s and other Russian businessmen’s efforts to help Ukraine could stem from horror over the war, but also from self-interest and a desire to flee Western sanctions.