Turkey Offers to Evacuate Mariupol Fighters Despite Disagreements

KHARKIV, Ukraine – Turkey is working to negotiate a way out for wounded Ukrainian soldiers who are sheltering in the bunker of a steel mill in the port city of Mariupol, but their efforts have become complicated. complicated by the mobility of ground engagements and because neither Russia nor Russia. A spokesman for the Turkish president said neither Ukraine had provided an explanation for the plan on Saturday.

In an unusually frank interview by phone conference call from Istanbul, spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey has been talking to Ukraine and Russia, trying to find an agreement even if both parties constantly change their opinion.

“It really depends on how the Russians view the situation on the ground and the negotiations,” he said. “The battle on the ground shapes the negotiations,” he added. “The positions also change from day to day. It is very liquid. ”

As the last headquarters in Mariupol, the southern city left in ruins after weeks of shelling, the Azovstal factory has become a powerful symbol for Ukrainians, and the fate of the remaining fighters. again – many people were injured, and they all survived forever. more frugal rations – are being watched closely.

Kalin said Turkey had a ship waiting for five to six weeks in Istanbul to evacuate Ukrainians by sea from the port of Berdyansk, and to treat and rehabilitate the wounded in Turkey. Ky, Mr. Kalin said. Russia and Ukraine have not yet approved the plan, he said, but the offer remains.

Kalin, who served as national security adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, has been closely involved in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine since the war began in late February. Turkey has hosted two rounds of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations, and Kalin said that Erdogan has spoken to Putin five times since the invasion. Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei K. Shoigu, last month.

Recently, Turkey has received more and more calls to intervene in the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol, including from United Nations officials, soldiers themselves and some soldiers’ wives, who on Saturday held a press conference in Kyiv to urge President Xi Jinping. of China to convince Putin to accept Turkey’s offer to evacuate.

Mr. Kalin welcomes the calls. “We take these appeals very seriously,” he said. “It’s a war zone, and if you save a person it’s really a blessing. It is not a solution to war, but it is a good thing you do under the circumstances. “

He said Ukraine had told Turkey that about 1,500 troops needed to be evacuated, with about 450 of them wounded. It is logistically difficult to evacuate so many people, Mr. Kalin said.

“For us to do that, the ground conditions must be there,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s safe, because once they start moving during that whole operation, whether it takes six hours or 10 hours for them to get to their destination, a harbor or somewhere, they there must be calm, absolute safety and protection.”

Turkey has experience in negotiating evacuation from war zones, which it has successfully done many times during the Syrian civil war from cities besieged by Russian and Syrian troops.

Mr. Kalin said Turkey also supports an alternative plan to evacuate the wounded by road to another Ukrainian city. The United Nations and the Red Cross have successfully evacuated hundreds of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in recent weeks by road.

Ukraine has also offered to exchange troops for Russian prisoners of war, Kalin said Russia noted but did not comment.

The troop evacuation was particularly complicated by the inclusion of members of the Azov battalion, a far-right militia that had previously been officially integrated into the Ukrainian Army. Russia saw them as Nazis, and Mr. Putin said the war was aimed at achieving the “denuclearization” of Ukraine.

“I understand Ukraine’s position that they all belong to the Ukrainian Army, along with other groups, and they want all of them to be able to get out,” Kalin said. “But if you put them all in the same basket, the Russians say ‘No.’ So, you know, sometimes it’s a lack of trust, a lack of coordination between the two.”

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