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Ukraine War: Zelensky Asked Biden Not To Sanction Roman Abramovich For Strategic Reasons

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked President Joe Biden in a recent telephone call not to impose sanctions on Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich because he might prove to be a useful intermediary in peace talks with Moscow, it emerged on Wednesday.

As a result, the White House persuaded the Treasury Department not to go ahead with plans to hit Abramovich alongside other wealthy Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the details.

The revelations, reported by the Wall Street Journal, explain how one of the world’s richest men has avoided U.S. sanctions even as the United Kingdom and European Union hit him with travel bans and asset freezes.

Sources familiar with calls between the two presidents told the newspaper that Biden consulted Zelensky on a range of sanctions, including plans for the 55-year-old owner of Chelsea soccer club.

The White House declined to comment.

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‘We are not going to read out private conversations between President Biden and President Zelensky,’ said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

‘For the negotiations, and in the interest of them succeeding, it is not helpful commenting on the process nor on Abramovich’s involvement,’ said his spokesperson.

‘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 Russian billionaire made his fortune buying up discounted state assets after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the past month he has been hit by a string of sanctions in the U.K. and E.U. thanks to his close relationship with Putin, and scrambled to divest before the asset freeze hit.

He put Chelsea Football Club up for sale, and staff are said to have been ready for viewings at his 15-bedroom $195 million (£150 million) mansion at Kensington Palace Gardens, London, and a three-storey penthouse at Chelsea Waterfront.

Abramovich himself is believed to be in Moscow, having travelled there from Israel, where he has nationality.

He quickly came under scrutiny by the Treasury Department as Russia invaded Ukraine almost a month ago, according to a person familiar with the issue, and his holdings were analyzed.

But it proceeded cautiously for fear that sanctions could affect global steel prices, given that he holds a stake in Evraz PLC which has steel plants in Oregon and Colorado.

At the same time, Ukrainian officials were tapping up anyone with Russian contacts who might be able to act as an intermediary with Putin. That reportedly included film producer Alexander Rodnyansky who in turn contacted Abramovich.

But his involvement is viewed with skepticism in some quarters.

‘A lot of people claiming to be helping have their own financial or geopolitical interests at stake,’ said a western diplomatic source.

U.S. lawmakers have called for Washington to add its weight to the pressure on Abramovich.

‘We request that Abramovich be sanctioned as a matter of urgency,’ wrote members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Malinowski, co-chairman of the Congressional Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus.

‘His blood money helps fuel Putin’s unprovoked and illegal war against Ukraine.’

It came after investigators at State Street bank in Boston claimed that more than a billion dollars of his in cash had been funnelled through offshore companies into the US from 2001 to 2016, BuzzFeed News reported.

And last week, the administration did make a move, effectively barring one of Abramovich’s private jets from making international flights.

His $65 million Gulfstream G650 was on a list of 100 aircraft operated by Russian passenger and cargo carriers such as Aeroflot, AirBridge Cargo, Utair, Nordwind, Azur Air, and Aviastar-TU.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimando said: ‘Today, the Department of Commerce is demonstrating the power and reach of the actions we took over the past few weeks in response to Russia’s brutal war of choice against Ukraine.’

‘We are publishing this list to put the world on notice – we will not allow Russian and Belarusian companies and oligarchs to travel with impunity in violation of our laws.’

Flight tracking data suggested the Gulfstream plane arrived back in Moscow last Tuesday.

Abramovich’s superyachts have also been on the move – fleeing European waters for areas where they are less likely to be touched by sanctions. My Solaris, worth $560 million, was moored in Barcelona two weeks ago and the Eclipse, worth $704 million was in the British Virgin Islands but both have since arrived in Turkish ports.

Source: Daily Mail

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