Erdoğan eyes Ukraine summit with Putin on Kyiv visit

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Kyiv on Thursday in a bid to set the stage for a three-way summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin aimed at avoiding war in Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Turkish leader’s talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky come with Kyiv hesitant to accept US warnings that President Putin is preparing to invade.

Erdoğan has also tried to talk down the prospects of war while pursuing his own diplomatic track separate from those followed by European leaders.

“We want peace to prevail in our region, and for this we are ready to do anything,” Erdoğan said last month.

But his attempts to host a peace summit between Putin and Zelensky have been stymied by Kremlin anger over Turkey’s supply of combat drones to Kyiv that played a crucial role in the 2020 conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Putin warned Erdoğan in December that Kyiv was trying to disrupt a peace agreement for its two eastern separatist provinces with “provocative” military actions that included the use of Turkish drones.

‘Offering to mediate’

Ukraine has suffered from a simmering conflict across its mostly Russian-speaking industrial east since a 2014 revolution set the former Soviet republic on a firmer pro-Western course.

Zelensky has called Russia’s positioning of new forces across Ukraine’s eastern and northern borders — as well as in the annexed Crimea peninsula — part of a Kremlin diplomatic power play with NATO and Washington.

Officials in Kyiv worry that Western talk of an imminent Russian invasion is frightening investors and doing further damage to Ukraine’s struggling economy.

But Zelensky has warmly welcomed visits from a string of Western leaders who have reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to set its own course.

Erdoğan is officially going to Kyiv to attend an economic forum at which the two leaders are expected to announce a new free trade deal.

Analysts believe he will adopt a nuanced approach that positions Turkey as a more neutral mediating partner.

“Ankara has sought to maintain close relations with both Moscow and Kyiv,” the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program director Aaron Stein told AFP.

“So given the present reality, Erdoğan has fallen back on a staple of his government’s rule: offering to mediate.”

Special relationship

Erdoğan enjoys a special relationship with Putin — dubbed by analysts as “competitive cooperation” — that allows them to compartmentalize their disputes.

Yet the Kremlin has given a decisively cool reception to Erdoğan’s mediation offers in the past month.

Erdoğan first raised the idea of flying to Moscow from Kyiv. The Kremlin said it was unaware of such plans.

The Turkish leader then extended a formal invitation for Putin to come to Turkey.

The Kremlin said last week that Putin would be happy to visit “once the epidemiological situation and the schedule allows.”

Analysts believe Putin is not interested in outside mediation because of his desire to be treated as an equal by Washington.

But Erdoğan has tried to show he is receptive to Putin’s stated concerns about the threats posed by NATO’s expansion in the years after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“There is a need to listen to Russia and eliminate their reasonable security concerns,” Erdoğan said last week.

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