UN Secretary-General stops in Ankara en route to Kyiv and Moscow

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, ahead of planned visits to Ukraine and Russia aimed at ending the Ukrainian conflict.

Neither Guterres nor Erdogan spoke to the media after their talks in the Turkish capital, but both issued statements. The UN chief’s office has acknowledged and praised Turkish efforts to end the conflict, while the Turkish presidency has said it remains committed to ending the fighting.

Erdogan maintained good relations with Ukrainian and Russian leaders and sought to mediate the conflict.

Samuel Bendett, a Russian analyst with the Russian Studies program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a US research organization, said Ankara had managed to carve out an important role for itself.

“Turkey is a big factor here because the Russian president talks to the Turkish president, the Ukrainian president talks to the Turkish president. So Turkey is involved and aware, and it could potentially be an important mediator if both sides think that it is time for Turkey to take on this role,” Bendett said.

On Sunday, Erdogan spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

FILE – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in kyiv, Ukraine, February 3, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential News Service/Handout via Reuters)

In a statement after the talks, Erdogan said he would continue efforts to organize with Moscow the departure of civilians from the beleaguered Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as well as pursuing broader diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Turkey hosted the talks of the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers and, more recently, the delegations of the warring parties.

Asli Aydintasbas, senior researcher at the European Council, said Ankara had every interest in ending the Ukrainian conflict.

“Russia controls Turkey’s southern flank due to its presence in Syria and its increased presence in the east and the Caucasus; if it takes over Ukraine, Turkey will be effectively surrounded by Russia,” Aydintasbas said. “I think people have enough historical memory to know that this is not a good strategic place for Turkey to meet.”

Some analysts say Erdogan’s role in peace efforts has bolstered the Turkish president’s international standing after he faced growing isolation among Western allies.

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives were continuing and that Turkey was ready to host a summit between Putin and Zelenskyy – if there was meaningful progress. However, the top Turkish diplomat tempered expectations, admitting the prospects for a breakthrough were dim.

As Moscow steps up its military offensive in Ukraine, observers say Putin appears to show little interest in peace efforts.

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