NATO member Turkey will preside over high-level negotiations between Ukraine and Russia later this week, its foreign minister said, the first sit-down involving top diplomats from the warring nations since Moscow’s invasion began in late February.
Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the plan on Monday, saying his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had agreed to a meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya set for Thursday following “intensive diplomatic efforts.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has since confirmed the announcement.
“We especially hope that this meeting is a turning point and…an important step towards peace and stability,” Cavusoglu said in a statement cited by Reuters, adding that both Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba requested his presence for the discussions.
While Kuleba said last Saturday that he was open to a sit-down with Lavrov so long as the talks are “meaningful,” Kiev has yet to publicly respond to Cavusoglu’s statement.
The latest round of talks between lower-level negotiators, held in Belarus earlier on Monday, reportedly made little progress, though a representative for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did speak of “some small positive shifts regarding logistics of humanitarian corridors.” Two previous meetings attempted to establish ceasefire zones to allow civilians to flee besieged cities, but the plans quickly collapsed due to ongoing fighting.
The two sides have traded accusations about who violated the truce, with Ukrainian officials insisting Russia never ceased its shelling on major urban centers like Mariupol, while Moscow says local ultra-nationalist militants have prevented civilians from leaving and effectively trapped them in the city.
Kiev now says it expects the humanitarian corridors to begin functioning as planned, although the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk has voiced concerns that some of the ceasefire zones will funnel refugees toward Russia and Belarus – Moscow’s close ally which has directly aided its attack on Ukraine.
“Now the Russians are saying that they can open corridors, but they want civilians to leave for Russian territory, which is absurd, cynical and unacceptable,” she wrote on social media, leaving some confusion as to the agreed-upon routes for fleeing civilians.
The corridors could be key in getting non-combatants out of areas under heavy bombardment, as many remain trapped between the warring parties. The United Nations reports that more than 1.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of Russia’s offensive, and estimates that more than 400 civilians have been killed in the fighting, among them 27 children.
Prior to the invasion, Ankara claimed it was in a unique position to negotiate a settlement between Kiev and Moscow, sharing maritime borders with the two countries while also belonging to the NATO alliance – the main source of Russia’s regional security concerns. Turkey also maintains some military ties with both nations, having purchased advanced weapons from Russia and sold drones to Ukraine. More recently, however, Turkey has offered to sell more weapons to Ukraine and condemned Russia’s invasion for dealing a “heavy blow to regional peace and stability.”
Russia has said it would end its attack “in a moment” if Ukraine agreed to a number of conditions, including a constitutional amendment vowing to never join NATO, recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk break-away republics as independent, and formally accepting Crimea as Russian territory. While Kiev has indicated some willingness to remain outside the NATO bloc, its top negotiator recently said the latter two demands are simply off the table, as Ukraine refuses to compromise on its “territorial integrity.”
Kyle Anzalone is the opinion editor of Antiwar.com and news editor of the Libertarian Institute. Will Porter is the assistant news editor of the Libertarian Institute and a staff writer at RT. Kyle and Will host Conflicts of Interest along with Connor Freeman. Reprinted from The Libertarian Institute.