Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was excluded from sanctions the United States slapped on Russia, its leader, and businesses after Ukraine's president claimed the billionaire soccer team owner may be an important go-between during peace negotiations, a report claimed Thursday.
U.S. Treasury Department officials had drafted a set of sanctions to punish Russia and Vladimir Putin, as well as multiple oligarchs tied to him following Moscow's unprovoked attack on Kyiv, but was told by the White House's National Security Council to exclude Abramovich, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people with knowledge of the phone call between the council and Treasury.
President Joe Biden had reached out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss a range of sanctions, including the planned penalties targeting the Chelsea soccer team owner, the report said.
When asked whether Abramovich was acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, State Department spokesman Ned Price claimed there were "a number of channels through which our Ukrainian partners and their Russian counterparts can engage in dialogue and diplomacy."
A spokesperson for Abramovich told the Wall Street Journal that in the interest of negotiations, "it is not helping commenting on the process nor on Mr. Abramovich's help."
Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to provide a readout of the conversation between Biden and Zelensky, while Treasury declined to comment altogether.
Abramovich is among a growing list of Russian tycoons targeted in an effort to isolate Putin. The United Kingdom claimed that Evraz, the steel giant Abramovich owns, supplied materials to Putin for his tanks and has personally targeted Abramovich and his money.
The British government froze his assets, and he was forced to put his beloved Chelsea FC up for sale.
Abramovich, who holds citizenship in Israel and Portugal, has denied having close ties to Putin despite a recently aired BBC documentary that claimed he was the Russian leader's "money man."
Abramovich began his life as an impoverished orphan who lived with his relatives in the Komi Republic. He had a brief stint in the Russian army before becoming a toy manufacturer who sold plastic ducks from his apartment in Moscow. Following the fall of communism, he traded in his toys for oil and aluminum and worked his way up. His cozy relationship with Putin allowed him to flourish, and, in 2003, Abramovich bought his soccer team.
Several European countries have already seized the luxury assets owned by oligarchs such as Abramovich.
His two superyachts, worth an estimated $1 billion, were recently locked in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game as they looked for a dock. They had been cruising international waters for more than a week but finally found refuge in Turkey.
On Thursday, Abramovich's decadeslong business partner, Eugene Shvidler, was added to the U.K.'s sanctions list.
The government said Shvidler, whose fortune exceeds $1.6 billion, is a "long-standing business partner" of Abramovich and that through his shares of Evraz, he had "been involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the government of Russia."