LEOPOLIS, Ukraine (AP) — Turkey’s president and UN secretary-general met with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy Thursday in a bid to defuse a nearly six-month war. But the meeting produced minimal progress.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would follow up with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, taking into account that most of the issues discussed would require the consent of the Kremlin.
In the face of such high-level meetings, which marked Erdogan’s first visit to Ukraine since the start of the war and the second trip to the country by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, some hoped that there would be progress, if not towards a general peace, at least on specific issues. But none of them were apparent.
Gathering in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine and far from the war front, the dignitaries discussed issues such as expanding prisoner-of-war exchanges and arranging a visit by UN atomic energy experts to help ensure the Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is in the midst of heavy fighting that has sparked fears of a catastrophe.
Erdogan has positioned himself as an intermediary in efforts to stop the fighting. Although Turkey is a member of NATO, its shaky economy relies on trade with Russia and the country has tried to maintain a middle ground between the two warring nations.
Concluding the talks, the Turkish president urged the international community not to abandon diplomatic efforts to end the war that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes. .
He reiterated that Turkey is ready to act as a “mediator and facilitator,” adding: “I remain convinced that the war will end at the negotiating table.”
Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators last March, but efforts to end hostilities failed.
Meanwhile, on the front lines, at least 17 people were killed overnight by intense Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday.
The Russian military claimed it hit a foreign mercenary base in Kharkiv, killing 90 people. Ukraine did not immediately comment on the matter.
In the latest in a series of incidents on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border, an ammunition depot caught fire in the Belgorod region, the regional governor said. No casualties were reported.
In an escalation of international tensions, Russia has deployed state-of-the-art hypersonic missile fighter jets to the Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by NATO members Lithuania and Poland.
One of the main topics during the meetings in Lviv was the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Moscow and kyiv have accused each other of attacking the compound.
Condemning the Kremlin for what he called “nuclear blackmail,” Zelenskyy has demanded that Russian soldiers leave the plant and that a team from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) be allowed in.
“You have to demilitarize the area and tell it like it is: Any potential damage in Zaporizhia is suicide,” Guterres told a news conference.
Erdogan also expressed concern about the clashes around the plant, saying: “We don’t want to experience another Chernobyl,” referring to the worst nuclear accident in history, which occurred in Ukraine in 1986.
Zelenskyy and Guterres reached an agreement on Thursday for an IAEA mission to visit the plant, according to Ukraine’s presidential website. At the moment it is unknown if Russia would accept those terms.
As for the troop withdrawal, a Russian Foreign Ministry official previously said it would leave the plant “vulnerable.”
Concerns about the plant increased on Thursday when Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of conspiring to attack the site and then blamed the other party.
Guterres used the talks in Lviv to appoint Brazilian General Carlos dos Santos Cruz to lead a previously announced UN fact-finding mission into Olenivka prison, where 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in an explosion in July. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the outbreak.
Also on Thursday’s agenda was the issue of an increase in grain exports. A few weeks ago, the UN and Turkey brokered an agreement so that Ukraine could export 22 million tons of corn and other cereals stranded in its Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion.
The blockade has aggravated food shortages in the world, caused prices to rise and raised fears of famine, especially in Africa. However, even with the deal, only a fraction of the grain has left Ukraine, around 600,000 tonnes, according to Turkish estimates.
Zelenskyy said on Thursday that he proposed to increase shipments. Guterres, for his part, applauded the success of the operation, but added: “There is a long way to go before this is reflected in the daily lives of people in their local bakery and in their markets.”
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
Associated Press writer Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed to this report.