Russia’s and Ukraine’s foreign ministries will meet in Turkey on Thursday for the first high-level discussions between the two nations since Moscow invaded its neighbour, with Ankara hopeful the meeting would mark a turning point in the raging conflict.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has downplayed hopes for a cease-fire deal or other outcomes from his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a diplomacy summit in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya.
After weeks of mediation efforts by foreign powers, NATO member Turkey has offered to mediate between the parties and will welcome their top two ambassadors.
Kuleba asked Lavrov to approach the negotiations “in good faith, not from a propagandistic perspective.”
“I will say frankly that my expectations of the talks are low,” Kuleba made the announcement in a video statement on Wednesday. “We are interested in a ceasefire, liberating our territories and the third point is to resolve all humanitarian issues.”
Moscow has stated that it is willing to hold negotiations with Ukraine, but that all of its conditions, including that Kyiv adopt a neutral stance and abandon its aspirations to join the NATO alliance, must be met in order for the assault to halt.
Delegations from both nations have previously held three rounds of discussions, two in Belarus and one in Ukraine. Despite some encouraging indicators on humanitarian issues, the conversations have had little impact.
Moscow describes its assault as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and depose “neo-Nazi” authorities. Kyiv and its Western supporters dismiss this as a sham justification for an unprovoked attack on a democratic country of 44 million people.
Bringing Lavrov and Kuleba together is a “step forward” that might increase diplomacy at higher levels in Moscow, according to Mustafa Aydin, a professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“Russia is not yet close to entertaining peace, though it is slowly changing its stance,” he said. “Its initially uncompromising posture is slowly giving way to a negotiation stance though not yet enough for a concrete outcome.”
Turkey maintains strong relations with both Russia and Ukraine and shares a maritime border in the Black Sea. Ankara has condemned Russia’s invasion and urged for an immediate cease-fire, but it opposes sanctions against Moscow.
While strengthening connections with Russia in energy, defence, and trade, and relying largely on Russian visitors, Turkey has also sold drones to Ukraine, which has enraged Moscow. It also opposes Russian policy in Syria and Libya, as well as the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that both Lavrov and Kuleba had asked him to attend the talks on Thursday, and that he hoped the meeting would be a “watershed moment.”
Turkey and Israel stepped up their mediation efforts over the weekend. In a statement issued on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan requested Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare a cease-fire.