Turkey’s president and the UN chief met with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy on Thursday to try to end a nearly six-month-old war, boost desperately needed grain exports and ensure the security of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.
The meeting, held far from the front lines in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the border with Poland, marked the first visit to Ukraine by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the outbreak of war, and the second from the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres. .
Erdogan has positioned himself as an intermediary in efforts to stop the fighting. While Turkey is a member of NATO, which supports Ukraine in the war, its faltering economy depends on Russia for trade, and the country has tried to navigate a middle course.
In the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, and Zelenskyy asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia, according to the Ukrainian president’s website .
Zelenskyy also asked for help from the UN to free the captured Ukrainian soldiers and doctors. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, at least 11 people were killed and 40 wounded in heavy Russian missile attacks in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and early Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said. 90.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine. Escalating international tensions, Russia deployed warplanes carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO nations.
The three leaders’ agenda included the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the complex, and the clashes have raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
In his late-night video on Wednesday, Zelensky reiterated his demand that the Russian military leave the plant, stressing that “only absolute transparency and monitoring of the situation” by, among others, the International Agency of Atomic Energy of the UN, could guarantee nuclear safety.
Zelenskyy and Guterres agreed Thursday on arrangements for an IAEA mission to the plant, the Ukrainian president’s website reported. It was not immediately clear whether Russia would accept those terms.
Zelenskyy asked Guterres to ensure the safety of the plant, including its demilitarization. Concerns about the plant rose Thursday as Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of conspiring to attack the site and then blame the other side. Earlier this month, Erdogan met in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the fighting.
And last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker deals that pave the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tonnes of corn and other grain stuck at its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded on February 24.
The agreements also sought to remove obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports to world markets. The war has significantly worsened the world food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers of grain.
Developing countries have been particularly hard hit by shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared several African nations at risk of famine.
However, even with the agreement, only one strand of Ukraine’s grain exports has made it. Turkey’s defense ministry said more than 622,000 tonnes of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal was reached. At a press conference in Lviv on Thursday, Guterres touted the success of the grain export deals, but added: “There is a long way to go before this translates into the daily lives of people in the your local bakery and markets.”
Discussions about a global end to the war that has killed countless thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes were not expected to yield anything substantive.
In March, Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, but the effort to end hostilities failed, with both sides blaming each other.
Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war.
Turkey is facing a major economic crisis, with official inflation close to 80%, and is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism.
Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs, and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM characterized Turkey’s diplomatic policy as “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russian.” Turkey believed that it did not have the luxury of totally alienating Russia,” Ulgen said.