Erdogan pushes for Ukraine peace talks as he warns of 'new Chernobyl'

Turkish and Ukrainian presidents and UN chief Guterres meet in Lviv

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for fresh peace talks on Thursday after almost six months of war between Ukraine and Russia, as he warned that the standoff at a nuclear power plant could lead to "a new Chernobyl".

Mr Erdogan, who has kept a foot in both camps during the conflict, was showered with warm words by senior Ukrainian officials as he made his first visit to the country since Russia invaded in February.

He held three-way talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the western city of Lviv, away from the front line of fighting.

Mr Zelenskyy described the visit by Mr Erdogan, who helped to broker a deal last month to resume grain exports via the Black Sea, as "a strong message of support from such a powerful country as Turkey".

The Turkish leader said the three men had discussed "transforming the positive atmosphere created by the Istanbul consensus [on grain] into permanent peace".

"I maintain my belief that the war will eventually end at the negotiating table," said Mr Erdogan, who said Turkey was willing to assist with further talks. "What matters is to find the shortest and fairest way to the negotiating table."

He said: "While continuing our efforts to find a solution, we remain on the side of our Ukraine friends."

The visit came as the conflict nears the six-month mark and took place in the shadow of missile strikes around Kharkiv that killed at least six people and injured 25, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia and Ukraine continued diplomatic sparring over the perilous situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which they accuse each other of shelling.

Mr Erdogan expressed concern about the fighting around Zaporizhzhia and invoked memories of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine by saying: "We do not want to experience a new Chernobyl."

The Turkish president has twice held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks and sought to maintain amicable ties with the Kremlin despite criticising the invasion of Ukraine.

But the Ukrainian leader hailed Mr Erdogan for his personal "leading role" in brokering a deal between the UN, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia to restart grain exports via the Black Sea.

"I am sure that the further expansion of co-operation between Ukraine and Turkey will strengthen both sides," Mr Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine's overtures to Turkey did not end there, with Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov announcing an agreement with a Turkish counterpart on reconstruction of the war-torn country.

This could lead to Turkish businesses becoming involved in rebuilding roads and bridges, such as a crossing between Kyiv and the outlying towns of Romanivka, the Ukrainian side said.

"Turkey is our strategic ally," Mr Kubrakov said. "We are grateful to our Turkish partners for their willingness to co-operate in the recovery of the infrastructure destroyed by Russia."

Mr Zelenskyy said after his talks with Mr Guterres that the UN should step in to secure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

"The UN must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarisation and complete liberation from Russian troops," he said.

But Russia rejected such an arrangement and hinted it could shut down Zaporizhzhia if the situation deteriorates.

"Proposals on a demilitarised zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are unacceptable. Their implementation will make the plant even more vulnerable," Russian news agency Interfax quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

Mr Guterres is due to continue to Odesa to see the restarted grain exports from the southern port under the deal negotiated with Turkey.

He said on Thursday that the UN was aiming to scale up its operations before winter to ease an evolving global food crisis.

Updated: August 19, 2022, 5:16 AM