The Ukrainian Zelenskyy organizes talks with the UN chief, the leader of Turkey

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – As a potential power broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use his first visit to Ukraine since the war began nearly six months ago to look for ways to expand grain exports from Europe’s granary to the world’s needy . UN Secretary-General António Guterres will use his visit to focus on managing the volatile situation at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will receive both men Thursday far from the front lines, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts are underway to help end the war. will also be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, the screams of incoming shells still dominate the whispers of diplomacy.

Massive Russian rocket attacks on the Ukrainian region of Kharkov killed at least 11 people and injured 40 on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Late Wednesday’s attack on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.

Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Thursday it was targeting “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkov, killing 90 of them.

To further heighten international tensions, Russia has deployed warplanes carrying its state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Moscow and Kiev have accused each other of shelling the complex.

In his overnight video address, Zelensky reiterated his demand for the Russian military to leave the factory, emphasizing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, among others, can guarantee a return to nuclear safety. .

Russia responded to the threats posed by the plant in wartime. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, the commander of the Russian army’s radiological, chemical and biological protection forces, accused Ukrainian forces planning to attack the factory again on Friday, while Guterres will still visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear weapons. terrorism. Ukraine has steadfastly denied targeting the factory.

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Kirillov said an emergency at the plant could lead to “a release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and spread them to hundreds of kilometers away … Such an emergency will trigger mass migration and have more catastrophic consequences than the looming gas-energy crisis in Europe.” .”

With such commitment, the role of an intermediary like Erdogan could become increasingly important.

Erdogan, whose country is a member of NATO, which supports Ukraine in the war, also oversees a shaky economy that has become increasingly dependent on Russia for trade. That background makes Thursday’s meetings in Lviv a diplomatic tightrope walk. Earlier this month, the Turkish leader met in southern Russia on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan has an hour-long meeting with Zelenskyy before Guterres joins both of them.

Last month, Turkey and the UN helped negotiate an agreement that paved the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains stuck in Black Sea ports since Russia invaded on February 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN aimed to lift roadblocks to the shipment of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets.

The war and blocked exports have significantly exacerbated the global food crisis as Ukraine and Russia are key suppliers.

Grain prices peaked after the invasion of Russia. They have fallen since then, but remain significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries have been particularly hard hit by supply shortages and high prices, and the UN has stated that several African countries are at risk of famine.

But even with the deal, only a trickle of Ukrainian grain exports have made it so far. Turkey’s defense ministry said more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal.

If grain shipments and nuclear safety are issues where some progress can be made on Thursday, talks about a blanket end to the war that killed countless thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes are expected to yield nothing substantial.

In March, Turkey organized a round of talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. Talks fell apart, with both sides blaming each other.

Erdogan is engaged in a delicate balancing act and maintains good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which played an important role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but has refrained from participating in Western sanctions against Russia during the war.

Turkey, facing a major economic crisis with an official inflation rate of nearly 80%, increasingly relies on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs and the Russian nuclear agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Sinan Ulgen of Istanbul-based EDAM thinkthank characterized Turkey’s diplomatic policies as “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia”.

During their meeting in Sochi this month, Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen energy, financial and other ties between their countries, raising concerns in the West that Ankara could help Moscow lift US and European Union sanctions. to bypass.

“Turkey felt it did not have the luxury of totally alienating Russia,” Ulgen said, noting that Turkey also needed Russia’s support in Syria to avert another refugee crisis. “Turkey is dependent on Russia for national security.”

He noted that Turkey did not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Ukraine in 2014, but “at the same time, it is the only NATO country that has not implemented sanctions against Russia.”

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Robert Badendieck contributed from Istanbul.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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