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Turkey says Russia and Ukraine are nearing an agreement on “critical” issues

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu attends a press conference in Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov March 16, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Pool

March 20, 2022

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s foreign minister said in an interview published on Sunday that Russia and Ukraine were nearing an agreement on “critical” issues and he hopes for a ceasefire if the two sides don’t back down on the progress made so far.

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24. President Vladimir Putin has described Russia’s actions as a “special operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and ridding it of what he sees as dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West say Putin campaigned aggressively.

Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov of Russia and Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine met in the Turkish resort of Antalya earlier this month, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also attending. The discussions brought no concrete results.

But Cavusoglu, who also traveled to Russia and Ukraine last week to speak with Lavrov and Kuleba, told Turkish daily Hurriyet that there had been “a rapprochement in the positions of both sides on important issues, critical issues.”

“We can say that if the sides don’t step back from their current positions, we hope for a ceasefire,” he said, without elaborating on the issues.

Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Al Jazeera TV channel the two sides have reached rapprochement on four key issues. He cited Russia’s call for Ukraine to abandon its ambitions of joining NATO, demilitarization, what Russia calls “denazification” and protection of the Russian language in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West have dismissed Russian references to “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine’s democratically elected leadership as unfounded propaganda, and Kalin said such references were offensive to Kyiv.

Kyiv and Moscow last week reported some progress in talks on a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security while keeping it outside NATO, though each side accused the other of dragging things out.

Kalin said a lasting ceasefire could only come about through a meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But he said Putin felt that positions on Crimea and Donbass “strategic issues” were not close enough for a meeting.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, while part of the eastern industrial region of Donbass was seized by Russian-backed separatists this year.

NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has good relations with both and has offered to mediate between them.

She has voiced her support for Ukraine but has also opposed sweeping Western sanctions against Moscow over the invasion.

While Turkey has close ties with Russia on energy, defense and trade and relies heavily on Russian tourists, Turkey has been selling drones to Ukraine, angering Moscow.

Turkey also opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey will not abandon ties with Russia or Ukraine, saying Ankara’s ability to speak to both sides is an asset.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Bobby Allyn

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