May 19, 2024

ISTANBUL (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Istanbul on Friday for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose NATO-member country has sought to balance its close relations with both Kyiv and Moscow and repeatedly offered to act as a peace broker between them.

During the talks in Istanbul, Erdogan was expected to press for negotiations to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its third year, a Turkish government official said.

Talks would also focus on a possible new measure that would guarantee navigational safety of commercial vessels in the Black Sea, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government protocol.

The visit comes as Zelenskyy continues 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.

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.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Illia Novikov in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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