Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked U.S. President Joe Biden in a recent phone call to hold off sanctioning Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
According to the report, Zelenskyy believes that the Jewish oligarch, who also holds Israeli citizenship, might prove to be an important middleman in negotiations to achieve peace with Moscow.
“For the negotiations, and in the interest of them succeeding, it is not helpful commenting on the process nor on Mr. Abramovich’s involvement,” a spokesperson for Abramovich said in a statement. “As previously stated, based on requests, including from Jewish organizations in Ukraine, he has been doing all he can to support efforts aimed at restoring peace as soon as possible.”
The Journal quoted people with knowledge of the call and noted that the Treasury Department, which drafted the sanctions in early March, declined to comment.
“We are not going to read out private conversations between President Biden and President Zelenskyy,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
State Department spokesman Ned Price also declined to comment specifically on sanctions discussions concerning Abramovich. When asked about Abramovich’s alleged mediator role in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Price added: “There are a number of channels through which our Ukrainian partners and their Russian counterparts can engage in dialogue and diplomacy.”
On Thursday, the Kremlin said that Abramovich was involved in mediation efforts at the outset of the war.
“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.”
However, the WSJ report said that Abramovich had not been particularly effective at facilitating peace talks.
The United Kingdom recently announced that Abramovich is one of seven Russian oligarchs targeted with new sanctions over their ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The restrictions include a travel ban on Abramovich, as well as freezing of his assets.
One of Abramovich’s assets is the Chelsea Football Club. Under recently imposed penalties, the club cannot sell merchandise or tickets for games, nor buy or sell players. Abramovich recently announced that he decided to sell Chelsea FC, but now the sale has been put on hold.
Earlier this month, Israel’s Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, announced the suspension of ties with Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire pledged to donate tens of millions of dollars over the next five years to the museum.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.