Turkey’s Erdogan offers to host a peace summit with Russia during a visit from Ukraine’s Zelenskyy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following their meeting at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following their meeting at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose NATO-member country has sought to balance its close relations with both Ukraine and Russia, offered during a visit Friday from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to host a peace summit between the two countries.

Erdogan, who has repeatedly discussed brokering a peace deal, said at a news conference in Istanbul following his meeting with Zelenskyy that he hoped Russia would be on board with Turkey’s offer.

“Since the beginning, we have contributed as much as we could toward ending the war through negotiations,” Erdogan said. “We are also ready to host a peace summit in which Russia will also be included.”

Ukraine remains firm on not engaging directly with Russia on peace talks, and Zelenskyy has said multiple times the initiative in peace negotiations must belong to the country which has been invaded.

Zelenskyy said any peace negotiations must align with a 10-point plan he has previously suggested, which includes food security, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression, and security guarantees for Ukraine.

“Any proposals for settling this war must start with the formula proposed by the state defending its land and its people,” he said. “We want a fair peace.”

The Ukrainian leader expressed hope that at the inaugural peace summit expected to be held this year in Switzerland, the possibility of reopening all Ukrainian ports, not only in Odesa but also in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, will be considered.

Zelenskyy, who visited shipyards where corvettes for the Ukrainian navy are being built, said on X that agreements were reached on joint defense projects with the Turkish government and corporations. He said on Telegram that they also agreed to simplify trade and remove barriers to business.

Erdogan said the two discussed stability in the Black Sea shipping corridor and he reiterated Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.”

The visit comes as Zelenskyy and other officials continue to press other nations for more munitions and weaponry to halt the advance of Russian troops trying to make deeper gains into the Ukraine-held western part of the Donetsk region and also penetrating into the Kharkiv region north of it in the third year of war.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was attending a meeting of the foreign ministers of France, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, that “drop by drop” aid to Ukraine no longer works.

“If things continue as they currently happen, it’s not going to end well for all of us,” Kuleba said. “What is required is an unrestricted and timely supply of all types of weapons and ammunition to ensure that Ukraine beats Russia and the war in Europe does not spill over.”

An envoy from China, which has frustrated Ukraine and its Western allies by boosting trade with Russia and portraying the conflict and its causes largely from Moscow’s point of view, was in Kyiv on Thursday during a European visit for talks on settling what it calls the Ukraine crisis. Li Hui, the special representative for Eurasian affairs, met with officials from Russia, the EU, Switzerland and Poland before his stop in Ukraine and was scheduled to go on to Germany and France.

Shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Turkey hosted a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers as well as unsuccessful talks between negotiators from the two countries aimed at ending the hostilities.

Later in 2022, Turkey, along with the United Nations, also brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine that allowed the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. Russia, however, pulled out of the deal last year, citing obstacles to its export of food and fertilizers.

During Li’s visit to Kyiv, Ukrainian officials described the horrors of the war.

“It is very important that you hear firsthand about the situation on the front line, what is happening and where we are,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office, said, according to a Ukrainian statement.

It wasn’t clear how Li reacted to the presentation. China released a terse statement Friday saying only that Li arrived in Kyiv by train at noon, held candid and friendly talks, and departed by train the same evening.

The war has created a sharp division between China and the West. The Chinese government avoids using the words “war” or “invasion” to describe Russia’s attack and cites NATO expansion as a root cause of the conflict.

The Ukraine statement said the two sides discussed the possibility of China’s assistance in prisoner exchanges, the return of Ukrainian children in Russia and the return of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia took control of during fighting in 2022.

Ukraine Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko on Friday urged Russia to immediately comply with an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution calling for the complete withdrawal its troops from the Zaporizhzhia plant and return of the station to Ukrainian control.

“Every day that Russians stay at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant increases the number of the existing problems and increases the threat of a nuclear incident,” Halushchenko said on national television.

In other developments:

— Zelenskyy signed an order Thursday allowing the first demobilization of soldiers who were conscripted into the army before Russia’s full-scale invasion. The order takes effect in April or May.

The soldiers, who had been required to continue their service after martial law was declared, can return home and remain in the army reserves, according to the order. It was not known how many troops are eligible because that information is classified.

— Indian authorities said Friday that they are in talks with Russia about returning Indian citizens duped into working for the Russian army, a day after a federal investigation agency said it broke up a human trafficking network that lured people to Russia under the pretext of giving them jobs.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova and Illia Novikov in Kyiv, Ukraine, Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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