Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Kyiv and Moscow were inching closer to putting an end to their armed conflict, with “almost a consensus” on topics like Ukraine’s NATO membership and security arrangements but still significant differences to bridge in terms of compromises on territory.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels following an extraordinary NATO summit, Erdogan said a key goal in Turkey’s mediation effort was to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian presidents for peace talks.
“All our efforts aim to create an atmosphere of peace by bringing together the two leaders,” Erdogan said. “We are in close contact with both countries with a view to putting an immediate end to the war.”
NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has good ties with both, and has offered to mediate the conflict.
“We are cautiously optimistic about the progress made in certain points at the negotiations,” Erdogan said, adding that there is “almost a consensus” on such issues as Ukraine’s neutrality and the country’s potential NATO membership, which Moscow fiercely opposes.
Erdogan added, however, that the two sides remain at odds over the status of the separatist-controlled breakaway statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, as well as Russia-annexed Crimea.
Moscow has demanded that Kyiv recognize the independence of the two so-called republics and acknowledge Russia’s ownership of Crimea. Both propositions are “impossible for Ukraine to consent to” without first putting the matter to a popular vote, Erdogan said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently said that he looks forward to direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Zelenskyy said he’s given up on the idea of joining NATO, he insisted on putting other compromises, including any potential territorial concessions, to a referendum.
Erdogan praised Zelenskyy’s call for a referendum, saying it reflected “wise leadership.”
President Joe Biden, who also attended the NATO summit in Brussels, was asked whether he believes Ukraine should make territorial concessions to Russia in order to secure peace.
While Biden didn’t rule it out, he said it should be Ukraine’s call.
“That is a total judgement based on Ukraine. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Biden said, while adding that he doesn’t “believe that they will have to do that.”
On his way back to Turkey on Thursday, Erdogan told reporters onboard a plane that he plans to call Putin soon and urge him to “be the architect of the moves for peace” and find “an honorable exit” from the war, according to Turkish media.
Zelenskyy said in a video address on Friday that Ukraine “must move towards peace,” adding that with “each day of our defense, we are bringing the peace we need so much closer.”
Echoing Erdogan’s remarks about areas of likely compromise between the two sides was Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, who made the remarks last week in an interview with Al-Jazeera television.
Kalin told the outlet that Russia and Ukraine were getting closer on four key issues: Russia’s demand that Ukraine renounce ambitions to join NATO, disarming of its military, the protection of the Russian language in Ukraine, and what Russia has referred to as “de-Nazification.” This last reference, along with Putin’s labeling of the political leadership in Kyiv as “neo-Nazis,” is generally understood as a demand for Ukraine’s leaders to cede power.
Ukraine and the West have dismissed Russian references to “de-Nazification” and “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine’s democratically elected leadership as baseless propaganda, while denouncing Moscow’s invasion as an illegal and unjustified war of aggression.