The Turkish defence minister declared on Saturday that the government has volunteered to evacuate civilians trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol via boat.

“We can provide vessel support for evacuations from Mariupol, especially regarding civilians, injured people and Turkish citizens and citizens from other nations,” Hulusi Akar told reporters.

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According to prior reports, the port city, which is located on Ukraine’s southern coast along the Sea of Azov, has suffered extensive damage from Russian attacks and has been unable to run secure evacuation routes until Saturday.

The Turkish Defense Ministry communicated its “request to support the evacuations” to the Russian military attaché in Ankara and the Turkish military attaché in Moscow, who forwarded the message to Russian authorities. According to Akar, the communication was also relayed to Ukrainian authorities via the Ukrainian military attaché in Ankara.

Earlier this week, Turkey hosted negotiation teams from Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul for discussions.

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When the invasion began on February 24, the Turkish foreign ministry declared it “unacceptable” and a “grave violation of international law.” Four days later, Turkey recognised the conflict as a war, authorising it to seal the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to most vessels under the 1936 Montreux Convention.

Turkey, on the other hand, rejects the Western sanctions placed on Russia, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasising that Russian oligarchs are “of course” welcome in Turkey and allowed to conduct business there in compliance with international law.

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Turkey and Russia have a history of antagonising each other, most notably when Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire clashed geostrategic manoeuvrings saw them fight on more than ten occasions from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. At the start of the Cold War, Kemalist Turkey’s axiomatic anti-communism and pro-Western ethos pushed it to join NATO and host US nuclear missiles, which were a major source of annoyance for the Soviets until they were withdrawn following the Cuban Missile Crisis.

At the same time, Turkey has stronger commercial relations with Ukraine than the majority of those Western countries. Ukraine supplies 15% of Turkey’s vital wheat imports, making it the country’s second-largest supplier. Last year, 2 million Ukrainians vacationed there, making them Turkey’s third-largest source of tourism.