Lviv, Ukraine (AP) – As a potential power broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use his first visit to Ukraine since the outbreak of war nearly six months ago to seek ways to expand grain exports to deliver a European breadbasket to the world’s needy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will use his visit to focus on containing the volatile situation at a nuclear power plant occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosts the two men Thursday off the front lines, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts are underway to help end the war. It will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the cries of incoming shells still overshadowed the whispers of diplomacy.
At least 11 people were killed and 40 others injured in intense Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The attack late Wednesday on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.
On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that it had targeted a “temporary base for foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.
Adding to international tensions, Russia has deployed warplanes carrying its advanced hypersonic missiles in the country’s Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders would also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe’s largest. Moscow and Kiev accused each other of bombing the complex.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky reiterated his demand for the Russian military to leave the plant, stressing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by, among other things, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, can guarantee a return to nuclear safety.
Russia has exaggerated the threats posed by the factory in wartime. Lieutenant-General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian army’s radiological, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian forces of planning to strike the plant again on Friday while Guterres continues to visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. Ukraine has strongly denied that it is targeting the plant.
Kirillov said that the emergency at the plant could lead to “discharge of radioactive material into the atmosphere and its spread hundreds of kilometers … An emergency of this kind would lead to a mass exodus and would have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas-energy crisis in Europe.” .”
With such risks, the role of a mediator like Erdogan could become more important than ever.
Erdogan, whose country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which supports Ukraine in the war, also oversees a fluctuating economy that is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade. This backdrop turns Thursday’s meetings in Lviv into a diplomatic tightrope walk. Earlier this month, the Turkish leader met in southern Russia on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan is scheduled to hold a meeting with Zelensky for an hour before Guterres joins them.
Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker a deal that paves the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck at its Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the United Nations aims at clear roadblocks to Russian food and fertilizer shipments to global markets.
War and export bans have greatly exacerbated the global food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion. It has decreased since then but is still much higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing nations have been hit particularly hard by supply shortages and rising prices, and the United Nations has declared many African nations at risk of starvation.
But even with the agreement, few Ukrainian grain exports have succeeded so far. The Turkish Defense Ministry said more than 622,000 tons of grain had been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal.
If grain transfers and nuclear security are the issues on which some progress can be made on Thursday, talks about a comprehensive end to a war that has killed countless thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes were not expected to yield anything substantial. .
In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. Talks collapsed, with both sides blaming the other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey supplied Ukraine with drones that played an important role in deterring Russian advances early in the conflict, but refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia because of the war.
Turkey, which is facing a major economic crisis with official inflation close to 80%, is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs, and the Russian Atomic Agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Sinan Ulgen of Istanbul-based EDAM believes that Turkey’s diplomatic policy is “pro-Ukrainian without being anti-Russian”.
During their meeting in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to boost energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising fears in the West that Ankara could help Moscow bypass US and European Union sanctions.
“Turkey thought it did not have the luxury to completely isolate Russia,” Ulgen said, noting that Turkey also needs Russia’s support in Syria to avoid a new refugee crisis. Turkey is dependent on Russia for national security.
He noted that Turkey did not recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, but “at the same time is the only NATO country that has not implemented sanctions against Russia.”
Susan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Robert Badendyk contributed from Istanbul.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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