Lviv, Ukraine (AP) – As a potential power broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use his first visit to Ukraine since the outbreak of war nearly six months ago to seek ways to expand the export of grain from the European breadbasket to the world’s needy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will use his visit to focus on containing the volatile situation at a nuclear power plant occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosts the two men Thursday off the front lines, in the western city of Lviv, as diplomatic efforts are being made to help end the war. It will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the cries of incoming shells still overshadowed the whispers of diplomacy. At least 11 people were killed and 40 others injured in a series of intense Russian missile strikes on the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
The attack late Wednesday on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry announced, Thursday morning, that it had targeted a “temporary base for foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders would also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine – the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Moscow and Kiev accused each other of bombing the complex.
Zelensky, in his Wednesday night video address, reiterated his demand for the Russian military to leave the plant, stressing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, among other things, can guarantee a return to nuclear energy. safety.
Russia has exaggerated the threats posed by the factory in wartime. Lieutenant-General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian army’s radiological, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian forces of planning to strike the factory again on Friday while Guterres continues to visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. Ukraine has strongly denied that it is targeting the plant.
Kirillov said that the emergency at the plant could lead to “discharge of radioactive material into the atmosphere and its spread hundreds of kilometers … An emergency of this kind would lead to a mass exodus and would have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas-energy crisis in Europe.” .”
With such risks, the role of a mediator like Erdogan could become more important than ever.
Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, and which supports Ukraine in the war, also oversees a fluctuating 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 met on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan is scheduled to hold an hour-long meeting with Zelensky before Guterres joins them.
Last month, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker a deal that paves the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck at its Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the United Nations aims at clear roadblocks to Russian food and fertilizer shipments to global markets.
War and export bans have greatly exacerbated the global food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are major food suppliers.
Turkey is in a position to help speed up exports, which have so far shrunk considerably. The Turkish Defense Ministry said that more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the start of the Black Sea agreement.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion, and while some have since returned to pre-war levels, they are still much higher than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries have been particularly hard hit by supply shortages and high prices. Although ships are now leaving Russia and Ukraine, the food crisis is far from over.
Prior to his meetings, Guterres visited Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, the oldest university in Ukraine, and praised the role of academic institutions in building democratic institutions.
If grain transfers and nuclear security were issues where some progress could be made, the talks on a comprehensive end to the conflict were not expected to yield anything substantial.
In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. Talks broke down after the meeting in Istanbul, with both sides blaming each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey supplied Ukraine with drones that played an important role in deterring Russian advances early in the conflict, but refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia because of the war.
Facing a major economic crisis with official inflation approaching 80%, Turkey is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs, and the Russian Atomic Agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
During their meeting in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to boost energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising fears in the West that Ankara could help Moscow bypass US and European Union sanctions.
Susan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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