KHARKIV, Ukraine — Turkey is working to negotiate a way out for wounded Ukrainian soldiers sheltering in bunkers at a steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, but its efforts have been complicated by fluid fighting on the ground and because neither Russia nor Ukraine has given authorization for the plan, Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Saturday.
In an unusually candid interview via teleconference from Istanbul, the spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey had been talking with Ukraine and Russia, trying to find a deal even as the two sides were constantly changing positions.
“It really depends on how the Russians see the war situation on the ground and the negotiations,” he said. “The battle on the ground shapes the negotiations,” he added. “Positions also change from day to day. It’s very fluid.”
As the last bastion in Mariupol, the southern city left in ruins after weeks of shelling, the Azovstal plant has become a powerful symbol for Ukrainians and the fate of the remaining fighters, many wounded and all surviving forever. scarcer rations—is being closely watched.
It also has symbolic importance for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose forces more than two months into the war have yet to seal victory by seizing the last holdout in the strategic port.
Turkey has had a ship waiting for five or six weeks in Istanbul to evacuate Ukrainians by sea from the port of Berdyansk and to treat the wounded and rehabilitate them in Turkey, Kalin said. Russia and Ukraine have not yet approved the plan, he said, but the offer remains.
Mr. Kalin, who served as the national security adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, has been heavily involved in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine since the war began in late February. Turkey has hosted two rounds of peace talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, and Kalin said that Erdogan had spoken with Putin five times since the invasion. Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei K. Shoigu last month.
Turkey has received increasing calls to intervene in the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol, including from United Nations officials, soldiers themselves and the wives of some soldiers, who on Saturday held a press conference in kyiv to urge the President Xi Jinping. of China to convince Putin to accept Turkey’s evacuation offer.
Mr. Kalin welcomed the calls. “We take these appeals very seriously,” he said. “It’s a war zone, and if you save one person, that’s really a blessing. It’s not a solution to war, but it’s a good thing you’re doing given the circumstances.”
He said that the Ukrainians told Turkey that some 1,500 soldiers needed to be evacuated, of whom some 450 were wounded. Evacuating so many people is logistically difficult, Kalin said.
“For us to be able to do it, the conditions on the ground have to be there,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s safe, because once they start moving through that whole operation, whether it takes six hours or 10 hours to get to their destination, a port or somewhere, there has to be absolute calm, safety and security. .”
Turkey has experience negotiating evacuations from war zones, which it successfully did several times during Syria’s civil war from cities besieged by Russian and Syrian troops.
Turkey also supports an alternative plan to evacuate the wounded overland to another Ukrainian city, Kalin said. The United Nations and the Red Cross have successfully evacuated hundreds of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in recent weeks by land.
Ukraine also offered to exchange the soldiers for Russian prisoners of war, something Kalin said Russia had noted but not commented on.
The evacuation of soldiers was complicated in particular by the inclusion of members of the Azov battalion, a former far-right militia now formally integrated into the Ukrainian military. Russia has branded them Nazis, and Putin has said the war was aimed at carrying out the “denazification” of Ukraine.
“I understand the Ukrainian position that they all belong to the Ukrainian army, with other groups, and they want everyone to be able to get out,” Kalin said. “But if you put them all in the same basket, the Russians say ‘No.’ So you know, it’s a lack of mutual trust, a lack of mutual coordination at times.”
The Canadian News
Canada’s largets news curation site with over 20+ agency partners