Istanbul will host the next round of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, which could begin as early as Tuesday, according to Ukrainian MP and negotiator David Arakhamia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin discussed the talks in a phone call yesterday but did not publicly say when the talks would begin this week.
Turkey has struggled to position itself as a neutral ally of Ukraine and Russia and a key diplomatic partner at the entrance to the Black Sea region. This includes holding tripartite talks with Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers in the southern city of Antalya as well as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu conducting shuttle diplomacy during recent visits to Lviv and Moscow. Turkey considered the talks a success, despite the lack of progress around the main talking point of humanitarian corridors, especially for the besieged city of Mariupol.
The opportunity to host both Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams represents a step forward for Turkey’s involvement in the negotiations, after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, had come to Antalya earlier this month “to discuss but not decide”, adding that he was surprised at Lavrov’s lack of authority to negotiate.
The Times also reports that Roman Abramovich held clandestine talks with Ukrainian and Crimean Tartar MP Rustem Umerov in Istanbul, calling Abramovich “an unofficial envoy of President Putin in the talks with Ukraine.” The round of talks was coordinated by presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, who reportedly proposed that “Crimea and Donbass be held by Moscow under a long-term lease, similar to British control of Hong Kong in 1898 to 1997, with their future to be decided at a later date,” according to the Times.
Finding a quick solution to the crisis in Ukraine is a crucial issue for Turkey, due to its reliance on Russian gas as well as wheat from both countries amid a protracted economic crisis in which the lira has halved in value last year alone.
The talks come as Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky told a group of Russian journalists that Ukraine was willing to discuss “guarantees of security and neutrality” in return for Russia withdrawing its forces. Kalin told local news outlet Hurriyet last week that the two sides were “close to an agreement” on key issues, including that Ukraine will not join NATO and “demilitarization”.