LVIV, Ukraine — As a potential power broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use his first visit to Ukraine since the start of the war nearly six months ago to seek ways to expand the export of grain from the European breadbasket to world’s needy, while the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, focus on containing the unstable situation in a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hosting the pair away from the front lines in the western city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts to help end the war will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the cries of incoming shells still overpowered the whispers of diplomacy.
A total of 11 people were killed and 40 injured in a series of massive Russian missile fires on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Wednesday night’s attack on Kharkiv killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.
At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Thursday morning to have targeted “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in the city of Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders would also discuss the situation at Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the largest in Europe, which Moscow and Kyiv will are mutually accused of having bombed.
In his nightly video speech on Wednesday, Zelensky reaffirmed his demand for the Russian military to leave the plant, stressing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by, among others, the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, could guarantee a return to nuclear power. security.
Russia highlighted the threats the plant posed in times of war. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian army’s radiation, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian troops of planning to strike the plant again on Friday while Guterres will still travel to Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. . Ukraine has strongly denied that it was targeting the plant.
Kirillov said an emergency at the plant could see “a release of radioactive substances into the atmosphere and spread them hundreds of miles…An emergency like this will cause mass migration and have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas power crisis in Europe.”
With such stakes, the role of an intermediary like Erdogan could become even more important.
Erdogan, whose country is a member of NATO that backs Ukraine in the war, also oversees a faltering 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 expected to have an hour-long meeting with Zelenskyy in the early afternoon before the two are joined by Guterres.
Last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded. February 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN aimed to clear roadblocks to Russian food and fertilizer shipments to world markets.
The war and the blocking of exports have greatly exacerbated the global food crisis as Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers. Turkey is in a position to help accelerate exports, which have been reduced to a trickle so far.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian 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 particularly affected by supply shortages and high prices. Even though the ships are now leaving Russia and Ukraine, the food crisis is not over.
Ahead of his meetings, Guterres visited Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, Ukraine’s oldest, and praised the role of academic institutions in building democratic institutions in a brief statement to reporters. He made no comment on the merits of the visit. While grain transport and nuclear security are issues on which progress could be made, discussions on a comprehensive end to the conflict were not expected to bring anything substantial.
In March, Turkey hosted a series of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. The talks collapsed after the Istanbul meeting, with both sides accusing each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with Russia and Ukraine. Turkey provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but it refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia during the war.
Faced with a major economic crisis with official inflation close to 80%, Turkey is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkish energy needs and the Russian atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
When they met in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising fears in the West that Ankara could help Moscow circumvent US and EU sanctions.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
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