Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says “the war must stop” between Russia and Ukraine, stressing that Ankara will push diplomatic efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire.
“The war must stop, people must not die. I came here to Moscow with this understanding today,” Cavusoglu made the remark during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” on February 24 aimed at the “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, largely populated by ethnic Russians, in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions – collectively known as the Donbass – declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.
Since the beginning of the operation, the United States and its European allies have labeled the offensive Putin’s imperial-style land grab, saying it has so far been poorly executed because the Kremlin underestimated Ukrainian resistance and Western resolve to punish Russia with unprecedented waves of sanctions.
Ukraine has for years aspired to join NATO — one of the reasons Russia launched the campaign against its neighbor. After three weeks of war, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that his country would not be joining the alliance. Since 2019, joining NATO has been enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution.
Cavusoglu also said NATO member Turkey hoped Putin would meet President Zelensky as a step toward peace.
“We have shared our concerns in a sincere way and done our part to ease tensions and open the stage for diplomacy,” Turkey’s top diplomat said. “We would like to host this (Putin-Zelensky) meeting when the situation comes to that point...for a lasting ceasefire.”
Lavrov, for his part, said there were no obstacles to a meeting between Putin and Zelensky but that it would only occur to sign a specific agreement. "Today's talks confirmed that we need to meet often and regularly exchange views on the key issues of our bilateral agenda, but first of all about the international situation, which has been experiencing deep changes.”
On March 10, Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, held talks in Turkey in the first such meeting since Russia’s operation began. At the time, Cavusoglu said the meeting was civil despite all the difficulties. The minister said the most important outcome of the talks was establishing contact.
Cavusoglu said Ankara’s priority was evacuating citizens remaining in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now besieged by Russian forces. More than 15,000 Turks has already abandoned Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Cavusoglu would fly to Russia and Ukraine this week as Ankara facilitates the ceasefire talks.
“We are sending our foreign minister to Russia today. He will hold talks in Moscow tomorrow. He will travel to Ukraine on Thursday. He (Cavusoglu) will continue our efforts to achieve a ceasefire and peace through talks with both sides,” Erdogan told journalists after a cabinet meeting.
Russia and Ukraine have held several rounds of negotiations since the beginning of the ongoing operation with the latest bout ending late Tuesday and Kiev pointing to “fundamental contradictions.”