Erdoğan will ‘most likely’ meet Putin this week

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday he would “most likely” have a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin this week.

The capital Ankara or Istanbul will serve as a “solution point” for steps to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine, Erdoğan told reporters after offering the Eid prayer in Istanbul.

Two months into Moscow’s war on Ukraine, Russian troops have stepped up their attacks in the war-torn eastern part of the country.

Ankara, which maintains friendly relations with both parties, actively participates in diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia. He held delegation-level talks in Istanbul last month and has repeatedly proposed a leaders’ summit between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul on March 29 were seen as a breakthrough in efforts to end hostilities that began on February 24.

Earlier in March, Turkey also brought together Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in its southern resort city of Antalya, the first meeting of senior government officials from both sides since the start of the war.

Turkish officials also held talks with their counterparts on the issue of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine to evacuate stranded and injured civilians.

“We are taking all kinds of steps in the process of accelerating evacuations in Ukraine,” Erdoğan said.

Turkey has so far facilitated the evacuation of dozens of civilians from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Noting that the Ukrainian and Russian sides want some level of support from Turkey in grain exports, the president said these issues would be discussed with Putin.

At least 2,899 civilians have been killed and 3,235 injured in Ukraine since the start of the war with Russia, according to United Nations estimates. It is feared that the true toll could be much higher.

More than 5.4 million people have fled to other countries, including some 7.7 million internally displaced people, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Regarding Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan said that bilateral relations would reach a “very different position”, adding that he had discussed strengthening relations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) during their meeting the previous week.

“There have been very positive developments regarding the Gulf,” he said, adding that he believes Saudi visitors to Turkey will increase and accelerate.

In 2019, before the coronavirus devastated the tourism sector around the world, around 550,000 Saudi tourists visited Turkey, however, this figure fell to almost 80,000 in 2020. According to tourism industry insiders Turkish tourism, if all goes well, this figure could reach 400,000 this year.

Stressing that the Saudis’ understanding of tourism in Turkey is “very positive”, Erdoğan said: “I think the tourist season will be very positive in Turkey.”

Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy will continue to work in this regard, he added.

During his return flight from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Erdoğan said that Ankara and Riyadh had demonstrated a common will to develop bilateral relations at the highest level.

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