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 look for ways to export grain from Europe’s granary to the world’s needy expand. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will use his visit to focus on managing the volatile situation at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will receive both men Thursday far from the front lines, in the western city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts are underway to help end the war. will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the screams of incoming shells still drowned out the whispers of diplomacy. At least 11 people were killed and 40 injured in a series of massive Russian rocket attacks on the Ukrainian region of Kharkov on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
Late Wednesday’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.
At the same time, Russia’s defense ministry claimed Thursday morning that it was targeting “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkov, killing 90 of them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Moscow and Kiev have accused each other of shelling the complex.
In his overnight video address Wednesday, Zelensky confirmed his demand for the Russian military to leave the factory, emphasizing that “only absolute transparency and control over the situation” is required by, among others, the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, a return to nuclear energy could guarantee. safety.
Russia responded to the threats posed by the plant in wartime. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, the commander of the Russian army’s radiological, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian forces planning to attack the factory again on Friday, while Guterres will still visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear weapons. terrorism. Ukraine has steadfastly denied targeting the factory.
Kirillov said an emergency at the plant could lead to “a release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and spread them to hundreds of kilometers away … Such an emergency will trigger mass migration and have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas-energy crisis in Europe.” .”
With such commitment, the role of an intermediary like Erdogan could become increasingly important.
Erdogan, whose country is a member of NATO, which supports Ukraine in the war, also oversees a shaky economy that has become increasingly dependent on Russia for trade. That background makes Thursday’s meetings in Lviv a diplomatic tightrope walk. Earlier this month, the Turkish leader met on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan will have an hour-long meeting with Zelenskyy before Guterres joins both of them.
Last month, Turkey and the UN helped negotiate an agreement that paved the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck in Black Sea ports since Russia invaded on February 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN aimed to lift roadblocks to the shipment of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets.
The war and blocked exports have significantly exacerbated the global food crisis as Ukraine and Russia are major food suppliers.
Turkey is able to help accelerate exports, which have so far been reduced to a trickle. Turkey’s defense ministry said more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the Black Sea deal began.
Grain prices peaked after Russia’s invasion, and while some have since returned to pre-war levels, they remain significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries have been hit particularly hard by supply shortages and high prices. Even though ships are now leaving from Russia and Ukraine, the food crisis is not over yet.
Prior to his meetings, Guterres visited the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Ukraine’s oldest, and praised the role of academic institutions in building democratic institutions.
If grain shipments and nuclear safety are issues where some progress can be made, talks about an overall end to the conflict were expected to yield nothing substantial.
In March, Turkey organized a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. Talks fell apart after the Istanbul meeting, with both sides blaming each other.
Erdogan is engaged in a delicate balancing act and maintains good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but has refrained from participating in Western sanctions against Russia during the war.
Faced with a major economic crisis with an official inflation rate of nearly 80%, Turkey increasingly relies on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs and the Russian nuclear agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
During their 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 lift US and European Union sanctions. to bypass.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
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