May 25, 2024

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.”

Zelenskyy said in a statement at the start of the meeting that he was grateful for Turkey’s support. He said he was interested in strengthening bilateral cooperation, protecting commercial vessels in the Black Sea, and having Ukraine work with Turkish defense companies.

Erdogan said the two discussed the stability of the 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.

In Istanbul, Zelenskky also was to visit shipyards where Turkish companies are building two corvettes for the Ukrainian navy, according to his office.

Zelenskyy last visited Turkey last July, when he returned to Ukraine with a group of Ukrainian commanders who were in Turkey following a prison exchange deal, and were to remain on Turkish territory until the end of the war. There was no explanation from Ankara or Kyiv about why they were allowed to return to Ukraine.

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 Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Illia Novikov in Kyiv, Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi and Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius contributed to this report.

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