LVV, Ukraine (AP) — As a potential power broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use his first visit to Ukraine since the war began nearly six months ago to look for ways to expand grain exports from Europe’s breadbasket to the world’s neediest. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will focus his visit on containing the volatile situation at the Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosted the two on Thursday in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, far from the front lines, where diplomatic efforts to end the war will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the screech of incoming bombs keeps the whispers of diplomacy even louder.
At least 11 people were killed and 40 injured in Russian missile attacks in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The attack on Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv late Wednesday killed at least seven people, wounded 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, officials said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday it had targeted a “temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.
To further escalate international tensions, Russia has sent fighter jets carrying its most advanced hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region.
The three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Moscow and Kiev have accused each other of shelling the compound.
In his late-night video address, Zelensky reaffirmed his demand that the Russian military leave the plant, “complete transparency and control of the situation”, and insisted, among other things, that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency would guarantee a return to nuclear safeguards. .
Russia played up the threats posed by the plant during the war. Lt. Gen. Igor Krylov, commander of the Russian military’s radiological, chemical and biological defense forces, alleged that Ukrainian troops planned to attack the plant again on Friday, while Guterres will visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. Ukraine has strongly denied targeting the plant.
An emergency at the plant could see “radioactive material released into the atmosphere and spread over hundreds of kilometers…this type of emergency would cause mass displacement and have more catastrophic consequences than a gas energy crisis,” Kirillov said. In Europe.”
With such stakes, an intermediary role like Erdogan’s may become even more important.
A member of NATO, which is backing Ukraine in the war, Erdogan also oversees a faltering economy increasingly dependent on Russia for trade. That background makes Thursday’s Lviv meetings a diplomatic tightrope walk. Earlier this month, the Turkish leader met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in southern Russia on similar issues.
Erdogan will meet with Zelensky for an hour before the two are joined by Guterres.
Last month, Turkey and the UN brokered a deal to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Since Russia invaded on 24 February. Eliminate barriers to Russian food and fertilizer exports to world markets.
The war and restricted exports have significantly exacerbated the global food crisis, with Ukraine and Russia being key suppliers.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion. They have since declined, but remain significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries are particularly hard hit by supply shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared many African countries at risk of famine.
Even so, only a tiny fraction of Ukrainian grain exports have been contracted so far. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said more than 622,000 tons of grain had been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal.
While grain transport and nuclear security are issues that could make some progress Thursday, talks about an overall end to the war that has killed untold thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes are not expected to yield anything substantial.
In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul. Talks broke down with both sides blaming each other.
Erdogan is engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining cordial relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has supplied drones to Ukraine, which played a significant role in halting Russian advances early in the conflict, but it has not joined Western sanctions against Russia in the war.
Facing a major economic crisis with an official inflation rate of 80%, Turkey is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas accounts for 45% of Turkish energy needs, and Russia’s nuclear power company is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Sinan Ulgen of Istanbul-based EDAM described Turkey’s diplomatic policy as “pro-Ukraine rather than anti-Russian”.
During a meeting in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising concerns in the West that Ankara could help Moscow bypass US and EU sanctions.
“Turkey believes that it does not have the luxury of completely alienating Russia,” Ulgen said, noting that Turkey also needs Russia’s support in Syria to avoid a new refugee crisis. “Turkey depends on Russia for national security.”
He noted that Turkey does not recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, but “is the only NATO country that has not imposed sanctions against Russia at the same time.”
Suzan Fraser reports from Ankara, Turkey. Robert Patentic contributed from Istanbul.
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