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 seek ways to expand the export of grain from Europe’s breadbasket to the needy of the world. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will use his visit to focus on containing the volatile situation at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received the two men Thursday away from the front lines in the western city of Lviv, where diplomatic efforts to help end the war will also be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the cries of incoming shells still trumped the whispers of diplomacy. At least 11 people were killed and 40 wounded in a series of massive Russian missile strikes in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
The Wednesday night attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed at least seven people, injured 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.
At the same time, on Thursday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that it targeted “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the compound.
In his late-night video address on Wednesday, Zelensky reaffirmed his demand that the Russian military leave the plant, emphasizing that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by, among others, the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, could guarantee a return to nuclear energy. safety.
Russia played on the threats the plant posed in times of war. Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian army’s radiological, chemical and biological protection forces, charged that Ukrainian troops planned to attack the plant again on Friday, while Guterres will still visit Ukraine to accuse Russia of nuclear terrorism. Ukraine has adamantly denied that it is targeting the plant.
Kirillov said that an emergency at the plant could see “a discharge of radioactive substances into the atmosphere and spread them hundreds of kilometers away… Such an emergency will cause mass migration and have more catastrophic consequences than the looming global energy crisis.” gas. in Europe.”
With so much at stake, the role of an intermediary like Erdogan could become increasingly important.
Erdogan, whose nation is a member of NATO, which is backing Ukraine in the war, also oversees a faltering economy that is increasingly reliant on Russia for trade. That backdrop turns Thursday’s meetings in Lviv into a diplomatic tightrope walk. Earlier this month, the Turkish leader met on the same issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan will have an hour-long meeting with Zelenskyy before Guterres joins them both.
Last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker a deal that clears the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grains trapped in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded on February 24. A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN was aimed at clearing obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer shipments to world markets.
The war and blocked exports have significantly exacerbated the world food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers of food.
Turkey is in a position to help speed up exports, which have so far been reduced to a trickle. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said that more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the start of the Black Sea deal.
Grain prices peaked after the Russian invasion and while some have returned to pre-war levels, they remain significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries have been particularly affected by tight supplies and high prices. Although ships are now leaving Russia and Ukraine, the food crisis is not over.
Before their meetings, Guterres visited the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, the oldest in Ukraine, praising the role of academic institutions in building democratic institutions.
If grain shipping and nuclear security are issues where some progress can be made, talks on an overall end to the conflict were not expected to yield substantive results.
In March, Turkey hosted a round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who discussed a possible deal to end hostilities. The talks fell apart after the Istanbul meeting, with both sides blaming each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which played a major role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict, but has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war.
Facing a major economic crisis with official inflation close to 80%, Turkey is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45% of Turkey’s energy needs, and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
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 circumvent US and European Union sanctions. .
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine