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Russia-Ukraine war: Putin not ready for talks with Zelensky, says Turkish official

The two heads of state will likely not get involved in direct negotiations with each other until some of the smaller issues have been resolved, says Turkish official
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart in Sochi on 29 September (AFP/File photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not yet willing to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart for direct negotiations, according to a senior Turkish official involved in mediation efforts. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the meeting publicly on Saturday, but Ibrahim Kalin, a chief adviser and spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the leader had been denied. 

"Zelensky is ready to meet, but Putin thinks that the positions to have this meeting at the leaders' level are not close enough yet," Kalin said in an interview.

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Earlier this weekUkraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked Turkey to be a guarantor of any future deal with Russia, along with the UN Security Council's five permanent members and Germany. 

Playing a significant role in mediating between Russia and Ukraine, Turkish officials have expressed optimism over ceasefire hopes in the conflict as it keeps ties with Moscow open. 

"Even though we fully reject the Russian war on Ukraine, the Russian case must be heard, because after this war, there will have to be a new security architecture established between Russia and the Western bloc," Kalin said.

"We cannot afford another Cold War - it will be bad for everyone and costly for the entire international political and financial system. Every decision we make, every step we take now with regards to Russia militarily, politically, economically and otherwise, will have an impact on that new security architecture."

'A peace deal at some point'

While Turkey is a Nato member, President Erdogan has had good relations with Russia, as well as Ukraine. 

On Thursday, Erdogan spoke separately to both Zelensky and Putin to gauge their positions. Kalin, who was also on both calls, said that Putin had agreed to stop pushing for regime change and "now accepts the reality of Zelensky as the leader of the Ukrainian people, whether he likes it or not".

'It’s President Putin who will call this war off. When he will feel like doing it... I do not know. But I think we are moving in that direction'

- Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan chief adviser

"I believe that meeting will take place at some point," Kalin said. "There will be a peace deal at some point. Of course, we all want this to happen sooner rather than later, but probably Putin thinks that he wants to be in a position of strength when he does that, and not appear to be weak, weakened by either military losses or by the economic sanctions."

Economic sanctions seem to have had the most impact on Putin's thinking, Kalin continued. 

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians "want a peace deal sooner rather than later," he said. Still, Ukraine's main objective in negotiations is the perseverance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed eight years ago.

Even if Crimea is "de facto Russian," Kalin said, no one will concede to "de jure" annexation, including Ukraine's Western allies. 

Kalin said that, ideally, a peace could be brokered with some new version of the Minsk accords, which were meant to provide significant autonomy within Ukraine to the Russian-supported separatist enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk.

But complicating things is the fact that just before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Putin and the Russian parliament declared recognition of the separatist enclaves as "independent" states, as they did with South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia following a similar war in 2008. 

Territorial control and sovereignty, however, are more major issues, Kalin said, stressing that lesser issues should be resolved first, such as Ukraine agreeing to a form of neutrality barring itself Nato membership, which Zelensky seems ready to concede. 

Nato countries will gather for an extraordinary summit meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue and express a show of unity. 

Meanwhile, Turkey will continue to work as a mediator, Kalin said, as it works hard "to keep our lines of communication open with Russia". 

"Of course, Russia bears the greater responsibility here," he continued, but "at the end of the day, it’s President Putin who will call this war off. When he will feel like doing it, when he thinks that he has gotten what he wanted out of this war - compromise, concession, deal - I do not know. But I think we are moving in that direction." 

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Turkey for its role in helping Ukraine during a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. 

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