Erdogan hosts Zelenskiy in Istanbul
By Can Burgaz
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine paid his first official visit to Turkey since the beginning of the conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Zelenskiy at Vakhdettin's mansion in Istanbul, where the leaders engaged in discussions on various topics, including Ukraine's aspirations for NATO membership and bilateral issues between the two countries.
Zelenskiy is touring NATO capitals to garner support for Ukraine's membership in the alliance. His visit to Turkey is deemed significant. Before Istanbul, Zelenskiy visited Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, [urging] these NATO members to take concrete steps toward granting Kyiv membership at the upcoming summit. President Erdogan expressed his [belief] that Ukraine deserved to be a NATO member.
Although Ukraine filed a request to join the North Atlantic Alliance in September last year, the recent NATO summit in [Vilnius] indicated that Ukraine would not immediately join the bloc, as it needs to fulfill additional requirements. Russia considers preventing neighboring countries from entering the bloc as one of its objectives.
NATO Secretary General Jens [Stoltenberg] assured that decisions would be made at the summit to bring Ukraine closer to NATO, including establishing a NATO-Ukraine Council for crisis consultations.
President Joe [Biden] stated that while Ukraine's NATO membership was premature, the United States and its NATO allies would continue supporting President Zelenskiy and providing necessary security and weaponry to help end the conflict with Russia. Zelenskiy's push for NATO membership remains a prominent issue.
During the meeting, Erdogan also mentioned efforts to extend the grain deal, which expires on July 17. He revealed that this issue would be a key topic in his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir [Putin] in August. Erdogan expressed hope for more extended agreements, preferably every three months rather than every two.
The meeting between the presidents also addressed the exchange of prisoners. [Zelenskiy] indicated that he would await the outcome before making further comments. He emphasized the importance of discussing the return of all captives, including children deported to Russia. He highlighted the situation of Crimean Tatars, referring to the Muslim community in Ukraine affected by the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The Kremlin's press secretary, Dmitry [Peskov], stated that Moscow would closely follow the discussions between Erdogan and Zelenskiy, emphasizing the constructive and cooperative relationship between Russia and Turkey. While the possibility of Putin's visit to [Turkey] in August was mentioned, no exact dates have been confirmed [yet].
It is worth noting that the Russian media has expressed skepticism regarding the statements made by Erdogan and Zelenskiy during their meeting in Istanbul about agreements reached, citing Dmitry Peskov's remarks.