Ukrainian Zelenskyy talks with UN chief and Turkish leader

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LVIV, 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 seek ways to expand exports grain from Europe’s breadbasket to the world’s needy. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will use his visit to focus on tackling the unstable situation at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greets the two men on Thursday away from the front lines in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts to help end the war will also be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, the cries of incoming shells still overpower the whispers of diplomacy.

At least 11 people were killed and 40 injured in massive Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Wednesday night’s attack on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday it had targeted “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.

Further heightening international tensions, Russia has deployed warplanes carrying its advanced hypersonic missiles to the Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. . Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of bombing the complex.

In his nightly video address, Zelensky reaffirmed his demand for the Russian military to leave the plant, stressing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by, among others, the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations, could guarantee a return to nuclear safety. .

Russia highlighted the threats the plant posed in times of war. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian army’s radiation, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian troops of planning to strike the plant again on Friday while Guterres will still travel to Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. Ukraine has strongly denied that it was targeting the plant.

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Kirillov said an emergency at the plant could see “a release of radioactive substances into the atmosphere and their spread hundreds of miles…An emergency like this will cause mass migration and have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas power crisis in Europe.”

With such stakes, the role of an intermediary like Erdogan could become even more important.

Erdogan, whose country is a member of NATO, which backs Ukraine in the war, also oversees a faltering 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 held talks in southern Russia on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan is due to have an hour-long meeting with Zelenskyy before the two are joined by Guterres.

Last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded. February 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN aimed to remove obstacles to shipments of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets.

The war and the blocking of exports have considerably aggravated the world food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers.

Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion. They have since declined but remain significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries have been particularly hard hit by supply shortages and high prices and the UN has declared several African countries at risk of famine.

Yet even with the deal, only a trickle of Ukrainian grain exports have succeeded so far. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said more than 622,000 tonnes of grain had been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal.

While grain transport and nuclear security are issues on which progress could be made on Thursday, talks of a global end to the war that has killed thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes shouldn’t add anything substantial.

In March, Turkey hosted a series of talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. The talks fell apart, with both sides blaming each other.

Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with Russia and Ukraine. Turkey provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but it refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia during the war.

Turkey, 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 Turkish energy needs and the Russian atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM called Turkey’s diplomatic policy “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia”.

When they met in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising fears in the West that Ankara could help Moscow circumvent US and European sanctions.

“Turkey thought it didn’t have the luxury of totally alienating Russia,” Ulgen said, noting that Turkey also needed Russia’s support in Syria to avert another refugee crisis. “Turkey depends on Russia in the area of ​​national security.”

He noted that Turkey did not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine in 2014, but “at the same time, it is the only NATO country that has not applied sanctions against Russia”.

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Robert Badendieck contributed from Istanbul.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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