Erdoğan backs peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he is ready to support peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow after he met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv.

Erdoğan, who has acted as an intermediary between Moscow and Kyiv, on Thursday made his first trip to Ukraine since Russia’s full-blown invasion on February 24 and said he would soon consult with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“The main focus … was how to conclude the war,” Erdoğan said. “The international community must take on responsibility to revive the diplomatic process.

“I continue to have faith that the war will end at the negotiating table. Mr Zelenskyy and Mr Putin are of the same opinion. The whole matter is determining the shortest and fairest path to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that Turkey is ready to play the part of mediator.

Erdoğan has pursued a balancing act with Turkey’s Black Sea neighbours, condemning the invasion and selling Ukraine combat drones but refusing to join Nato partners in sanctioning Russia, on which his country depends for gas, oil and tourism. He met Putin in Sochi earlier this month and pledged to deepen trade links. This has raised worries in western capitals that Ankara could help Moscow sidestep some sanctions.

Erdoğan’s trip coincided with a visit by UN secretary-general António Guterres to check on the progress of a grain corridor brokered by Erdoğan and the UN between Russia and Ukraine. This has allowed about 30 ships to navigate a narrow lane in the Black Sea in and out of the port of Odesa, partially ending a six-month blockade.

The deal is expected to facilitate exports of 20mn tons of crops trapped in Ukrainian silos and help forestall a global food crunch. Erdoğan said he discussed ways of increasing the flow of grain and that the arrangement showed how Turkey and the UN could encourage co-operation between Ukraine and Russia

The leaders met as tensions simmered over control of a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. In March, Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station, which is still operated by Ukrainian staff. Both sides have accused the other of shelling the site. “We don’t want to live through another Chernobyl,” Erdoğan said, referring to the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster, which occurred in Ukraine in 1986 when it was under Soviet rule.

A visit to the plant by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has been delayed by disagreement between Kyiv and Moscow over which side would arrange the trip.

Russia’s foreign ministry has said creating a demilitarised zone around the plant would make it “more vulnerable” but said the IAEA visit would happen “in the near future”.

After Thursday’s meeting, Zelenskyy said: “The UN must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarization and complete liberation from Russian troops.” He has previously called on Russian forces to withdraw unconditionally from the plant in order to guarantee its operational safety.

In Lviv, Erdoğan told Zelenskyy that Turkey was ready to help rebuild Ukraine after the war. Turkish broadcaster HaberTurk said the two sides had signed a deal on reconstruction, but did not provide details on the size of the agreement. Ukraine has estimated that rebuilding the country will cost $750bn.

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