ISTANBUL: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.—Reuters
ISTANBUL: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.—Reuters

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that the country’s March local elections would be his last, suggesting an end to his more than two decades in power.

It was the first time that Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, has spoken about leaving office.

“I am working non-stop. We’re running around breathlessly because for me, it’s a final,” said the president at a meeting of the Young Turks Foundation.

“With the authority that the law confers on me, this election is my last election.” The 70-year-old leader expressed confidence that his conservative Justice and Development (AKP) party would nonetheless remain in power even after he left office.

Erdogan says after meeting Zelensky he is ready to host a Russia-Ukraine summit

The AKP is hoping to regain the mayorship of Istanbul in the elections later this month, having seen it taken by the opposition in 2019.

Russia-Ukraine summit

Turkiye is ready to host a Russia-Ukraine summit to resolve the crisis arising from Moscow’s invasion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a welcome ceremony for President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday.

The Ukrainian president’s Istanbul visit comes as Kyiv seeks to shore up more support from its Nato allies and as Ankara positions itself as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

Kyiv has faced mounting pressure on the front line in recent months, losing ground to Moscow amid hold-ups to Western aid from its biggest ally Washington. The two leaders met at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul and held a press conference, according to the Turkish presidency.

Zelensky’s office said the pair discussed Kyiv’s proposal to end the conflict — as well as “Black Sea navigation security, global food stability, and the release of Ukrainian prisoners and political prisoners held by the Russian state.”

Nato member Turkiye has sought to maintain good relations with Moscow and Kyiv throughout the two-year war, with Erdogan pitching himself as a key go-between and possible peace-maker.

A Turkish diplomatic source said Ankara “will once again emphasise that our strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, including Crimea, continues.”

Drone attacks

Russia and Ukraine reported civilian casualties on Friday, as both sides accused each other of striking deep behind enemy lines.

A Ukrainian drone attack on the Russian border region of Belgorod killed two people on Friday, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

In Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, on the other side of the border, a Russian drone attack on the town of Vovchansk killed a man and a woman in a car, regional head Oleg Sinegubov said.

Turkey hosted failed ceasefire talks between Kyiv and Moscow in the first weeks of the war and wants to revive them.

“Both sides have now reached the limit of what they can achieve through war,” Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said this month. “We think it’s time to start a dialogue towards a ceasefire.”

Turkiye’s strategic location on the Black Sea and its control of the Bosphorus Strait gives it a unique military, political and economic role in the conflict.

In July 2022, Ankara with the United Nations brokered the Black Sea grain deal, the most significant diplomatic agreement so far reached between Kyiv and Moscow.

Moscow ditched the initiative — which allowed the safe passage of Ukrainian agricultural exports across the mine-laden Black Sea — a year later, complaining that the terms were unfair.

Since the collapse of the grain deal, Kyiv has used an alternative shipping route hugging the coastline to avoid contested waters.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2024

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