Zelenskyy, Erdogan discuss peace prospects between Ukraine, Russia

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, sits next to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during their meeting at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul, Turkey, March 8, 2024. [AP Photo]

Turkey is ready to host a peace summit on the war in Ukraine that both Ukraine and Russia would attend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Istanbul.

"We are giving our utmost contribution for the war to end on the basis of negotiations,” Erdogan said, adding he reiterated Ankara's support for Ukraine's sovereignty.

Throughout the two-year war between Russia and Ukraine, Turkey, a NATO member, has sought to maintain good diplomatic relations with both countries and is expected to urge peace negotiations between the two foes.

Ankara "will once again emphasize that our strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, including Crimea, continues," a Turkish diplomatic source told Agence France-Presse.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan urged Ukraine and Russia to begin cease-fire talks after meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and added that such talks must not mean the recognition of Russia's occupation.

As part of its balancing act between Ukraine and Russia, Ankara has offered to host peace talks while keeping up its defense industry ties with Ukraine and deepening its energy cooperation with Russia. Additionally, it has inked an accord to take part in the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine.

Swiss summit

After talks with Erdogan in Istanbul, Zelenskyy said a Russian representative could be invited to future negotiations after a road map toward peace is agreed upon with Ukrainian allies at a meeting in Switzerland. He said Russia would not be invited to the summit in Switzerland, due to be held in the coming months.

“We don't see how you can invite people who block, destroy and kill everything,” he said.

Zelenskyy and Erdogan discussed developments in the Russia-Ukraine war, shipping security in the Black Sea, the defense industry cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey, and the expired Black Sea grain deal.

Ankara — which shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea — has sought to persuade Russia to return to the grain deal that allowed Ukraine to safely export grain from its Black Sea ports. Russia has said it is not interested in reviving it.

Last July, Russia exited the Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, saying its demands for better terms for its own food and fertilizer exports were being ignored.

Zelenskyy called the talks with his Turkish counterpart “sincere and fruitful.”

“Today we have reached agreements on joint defense projects both at the government level and between companies,” he wrote on the social media platform X.

He also expressed his gratitude for Erdogan’s diplomatic mediation to release Ukrainian citizens from Russian captivity, “including Crimean Tatars, who have been repressed by Russia in Ukraine's occupied territories and are being held in Russian prisons and camps under extremely harsh and inhumane conditions.”

Zelenskyy’s visit to Turkey came as Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced Friday at a government meeting that Kyiv expected to receive about $4.5 billion in March and another $1.5 billion in April from the European Union.

Kyiv continues to press allies for more munitions and weaponry to stem the advance of Russian troops into the Ukraine-held western part of the Donetsk region and also to keep Russia from penetrating the Kharkiv region north of it.

Zelenskyy’s trip to Turkey came before a planned visit there by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has said will take place after Russian elections on March 15-17.

Charges of torture

Russian armed forces and associated groups systematically use torture in occupied areas of Ukraine, a U.N. expert said Friday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Alice Jill Edwards, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said she had come to that conclusion after a visit to Ukraine in September. She said her findings pointed to "a deliberate policy" on the part of the Russians.

"The volume of credible allegations of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or humiliating treatment or punishment [indicate that] torture is an element of Russia's war policy," she told the U.N. Human Rights Council. "These grievous crimes appear to be neither random nor incidental.”

Speaking to reporters, Edwards said Ukrainian prosecutors had told her there were about 103,000 open cases related to war crimes and crimes against humanity, 90% of which were registered as torture cases.

Addressing conditions faced by Russian prisoners of war in Ukrainian custody, she said "sincere efforts were being made by the Ukrainian authorities to treat POWs respectfully."

Her report raised concerns about conditions in one penal facility in Lviv, however, where Ukrainian nationals charged with collaborating with the Russians were being held, saying she had received "several allegations of abusive treatment by Ukrainian officials," mainly in connection with the capture, arrest and transit of prisoners.

"I call on the Ukrainian authorities to investigate such allegations promptly, to reinforce training and disciplinary and other preventive measures, and to guarantee the protection of all legal rights of all complainants and detainees," she said.