Turkey’s President says Russia should return captured Ukrainian territories

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Monday that Russia should return all the Ukrainian territory it had captured, and indicated that the negotiations he helped brokered were moving in that direction.

“The invaded lands will be returned to Ukraine,” Erdogan said in a statement an interview with “PBS NewsHour. ” He was careful not to criticize President Vladimir V. Putin for his conduct of the war, but outlined a clear line on the return of territory.

“This is what is expected,” Mr. Erdogan said. “This is what is wanted. Putin has taken certain steps. We have taken certain steps.”

“An invasion cannot be justified,” he added.

Mr. Erdogan has positioned himself as the mediator between Ukraine and Russia and the preliminary organization Words of Peace in Istanbul in March, although those discussions were fruitless. In the interview, Erdogan suggested that Moscow and Kyiv could be close to reaching an agreement to exchange 200 “hostages”, which would be one of the biggest prisoner swaps in the seven-month war.

“Two hundred hostages will be exchanged according to the agreement between the parties. I think an important step will be taken in the future,” he said, without providing further details.

Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a prisoner swap at the end of june saw 144 Ukrainians exchanged, most of them fighters from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol.

News of the exchange could come soon after Mr. Putin met Mr. Erdogan last week in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to discuss the war. Mr. Erdogan said the meeting gave him the impression that “he is ready to end this as soon as possible”.

“This is a conflict that leads to casualties,” Erdogan said. “Everybody is dying, and no one will win at the end of the day.”

Mr. Erdogan also expressed opposition to the annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized in 2014. He said he had repeatedly asked Moscow to “return Crimea to its rightful owners” but did not have resulted.

The the relationship between the two autocrats has become closer in recent years, defined by fluctuations in power dynamics and shared interests. Turkey has opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Mr. Erdogan has sought to maintain a close relationship with Mr. Putin, trying to minimize the consequences of the Ukraine war in Turkey as he enters a election year with the country’s economy in recession.

He has refused to impose Western economic sanctions on Russia’s industry and broader economy and brokered a deal to allow grain exports out of Ukraine. The two leaders met several times to discuss expanding the diplomatic partnership and negotiate economic cooperation.

Erdogan’s comments came after fighting broke out last week on the border Nagorno-Karabakh, a land at the center of the decades-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia – with Turkey backing Azerbaijan and Russia intervening to save Armenia. The deadly clashes have raised the prospect of Russia losing influence after Moscow moved some troops from the southern Caucasus to Ukraine.

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