Zelensky set to meet Turkey's Erdogan as Ukraine pushes NATO goals

Zelensky set to meet Turkey's Erdogan as Ukraine pushes NATO goals
The talks in Istanbul come on the eve of the 500th day since Russia's invasion, with Zelensky admitting a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive was progressing slowly.
4 min read
07 July, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses via live video feed at TRT World Forum 2022 in Istanbul, Turkiye on 9 December 2022. [Getty]

President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to hold talks with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday on the latest leg of a tour to push Ukraine's bid to join NATO and secure more weapons from allies.

The talks in Istanbul come on the eve of the 500th day since Russia's invasion, with Zelensky admitting a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive was progressing slowly.

"But nevertheless, we are advancing, not retreating, like Russians," Zelensky told reporters. "We now have the initiative."

The talks with Erdogan - an important broker in the conflict - are due to focus on an expiring deal to ship Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, as well as next week's NATO summit.

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Analysts expect Zelensky to push Erdogan to give a green light for Sweden's NATO membership ahead of the July 11-12 meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

Turkey is blocking Sweden's candidacy because of a longstanding dispute about Stockholm's perceived lax attitude toward alleged Kurdish militants living in the Nordic country.

Zelensky is seeking NATO accession for his own country, which has been battling a Russian invasion since February 2022, and has said he wants the summit to lead to an "invitation" to join the bloc.

Both Zelensky and Erdogan want to extend a United Nations and Turkey-brokered deal with Russia under which Ukraine has been allowed to ship grain to global markets during the war.

The deal will expire on 17 July unless Russia agrees to its renewal.

Erdogan has tried to leverage good working relations with both Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin to mediate an end to the war.

Turkey staged two early rounds of peace negotiations and is pushing for more talks.

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Before visiting Prague on Thursday, Zelensky travelled to Sofia to discuss weapons deliveries with Bulgaria, a major supporter and ammunition producer.

In Washington, US media reported that the Pentagon was preparing a new package of arms and ammunition that could include controversial cluster bombs.

The weapons, rockets which disperse multiple small explosives over a wide radius, have already been used by Russian and Ukrainian forces in the war.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted that he had spoken by phone to US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.

The two "talked about new projects related to supplying various types of ammunition. Stay tuned for the good news," Reznikov wrote.

But human rights groups condemned the plan, saying the bomblets can go undetonated and remain at the location for years, posing threats to civilians.

In Russia, the Kremlin criticised Zelensky's visit to Bulgaria, saying the Ukrainian leader was trying to "drag" other countries into the war.

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Meanwhile, the mystery deepened as to the fate of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, after the collapse of his short-lived mutiny.

Originally, Prigozhin was said to have been exiled to Belarus.

But Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko - who mediated a deal to end the revolt - said Thursday that the Wagner leader wasn't in his country.

"As far as Prigozhin is concerned, he is in Saint Petersburg... He is not in Belarus," Lukashenko told reporters in Minsk.

Lukashenko said he knew "for sure" that Prigozhin was free.

Lukashenko also said Wagner mercenaries have not established a base in Belarus yet, despite a Kremlin offer for attempted mutiny participants to relocate.

On Thursday, Russian missiles fell on Lviv killing at least five people, the biggest attack on civilian infrastructure in the western Ukrainian city since the Russian invasion, the city's mayor said.

Russia's defence ministry said its long-range, precision strikes overnight had hit all the designated targets but did not specifically mention Lviv.

Ukraine Interior Minister Igor Klymenko wrote on Telegram that the missiles had struck a residential building and destroyed its upper floors.

At least 37 people were wounded, including a child, officials said.

UNESCO said the missiles also struck a building in the buffer zone of Lviv's historic centre, calling it a violation of the World Heritage Convention.

Rescuers worked to reach those still trapped in the bombed residential building, and AFP footage showed emergency responders clearing rubble and wood from the gutted first floor.

"I woke up from the first explosion, but we didn't have time to leave the apartment," said Olya, 37.

"There was a second explosion, the ceiling started to fall, my mother was immediately hit," she said.

She said her mother and neighbours died in the attack.

"At this point, it seems that I was the only one who survived from the fourth floor. It's a miracle," she said.