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Russia-Ukraine war: Turkey says Moscow and Kyiv 'close to agreement'

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says there is 'momentum' in talks between the two sides as it continues its role as 'honest mediator'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu arrive to hold a joint press conference following their talks in Moscow on 16 March 2022 (AFP)

Turkey on Sunday said that Russia and Ukraine had made progress on their negotiations to halt the invasion and that the two warring sides were close to an agreement. 

"Of course, it is not an easy thing to come to terms with while the war is going on, while civilians are killed, but we would like to say that momentum is still gained," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said from the southern Turkish province of Antalya, AFP reported.

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"We see that the parties are close to an agreement."

Cavusoglu this week visited Russia and Ukraine as Turkey, which has strong bonds with the two sides, has tried to position itself as a mediator

Ankara hosted the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in Antalya last week. 

Cavusoglu said Turkey was in contact with the negotiating teams from the two countries but he refused to divulge the details of the talks as "we play an honest mediator and facilitator role".

In an interview with daily Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the sides were negotiating six points: Ukraine's neutrality; disarmament and security guarantees; the so-called "de-Nazification"; removal of obstacles on the use of the Russian language in Ukraine; the status of the breakaway Donbas region; and the status of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. 

'Zelensky is ready to meet'

On Saturday, Kalin had said that Putin was not yet ready to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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

Zelensky has repeatedly appealed for peace, urging Russia to accept "meaningful" talks for an end to the invasion. 

"This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine," he said, in his latest video posted on social media on Saturday. 

'After this war, there will have to be a new security architecture established between Russia and the western bloc'

- Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish presidential spokesman

Turkey said it was ready to host a meeting between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"We are working day and night for peace," Cavusoglu said on Sunday.

Earlier this week, Ukraine'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 Recep Tayyip 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".

"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."

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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 and barring itself from Nato membership, which Zelensky seems ready to concede. 

Nato summit

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 Cavusoglu.