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  • Schuyler Beltrami

UN Chief Meets with Zelenskyy and Erdogan in Ukraine

On Thursday, the Secretary General of the United Nations met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The meeting discussed a possible roadmap to a diplomatic end to the war in Ukraine, which is now entering its seventh month. The UN also expressed its concern over the increasingly tense situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in southern Ukraine, which is under Russian control. Russia refused to comment on the meeting of the world leaders.

(Photo: Deutsche Welle/AP)

“I Maintain the Belief the War will End at the Negotiating Table”

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which has escaped much of the damage seen by other parts of the country, hosted a meeting on Thursday between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, UN Secretary General António Guterres, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The overall objective of the meeting was to discuss a possible plan for a diplomatic end to the war in Ukraine, which began in late February of this year. The Ukrainian Government has been adamant that no peace treaties could begin unless Russia voluntarily lays down their arms and leaves Ukrainian territory. This would include leaving the areas of Ukraine, most notably Crimea and the Donbas, which Russia, or Russia-backed proxies, have occupied since 2014. Many observers in the West believe that without a strong military counteroffensive from the Ukrainians, the conflict may last for years in a deadlocked situation and Ukraine may be forced to give Russia some land concessions in order to end a protracted conflict. However, the delegates at Thursday’s meeting in Lviv were looking to build on the positive diplomatic meetings which took place in July between Ukraine and Russia, which allowed for some Ukrainian grain to be exported by ship through the Black Sea. Speaking about the attitudes of the assembled leaders, Turkish President Erdoğan said his personal belief is that “the war will ultimately end at the negotiating table. Mr. Zelenskyy and Mr. Guterres have the same opinion in this regard.” Turkey, a NATO member, has maintained positive relations with Russia during the conflict and has increasingly acted as a mediator between the two sides. The agreement to release some Ukrainian grain by ship was signed in Istanbul, and so far, all peace talks between the two countries have taken place in Turkey as well. But, while the leaders met to discuss a diplomatic end to the war, the military conflict raged on in Ukraine’s east. Russia bombarded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with an artillery attack which killed at least 17 people and injured over 40 more, according to the regional governor of Kharkiv. At the same time, Ukraine has been showing the power of its new imported weapons from the West with yet another bombing of a Russian military base far behind enemy lines in the occupied Crimea Peninsula. Over the past 10 days, Ukraine has bombarded at least four military outposts in Crimea, a move which has forced Russia to remove military planes from the peninsula and relocate them deeper inside Russian territory. According to the Ukrainian military, at least 73 Russian troops were killed over the past two days in military operations in the country’s south, where Ukraine is in the initial stages of a mass counteroffensive which hopes to regain some access to the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea.

"Grave Concern" over Nuclear Plant under Russian Control

While the goal to end the war through diplomatic means is the main long-term objective of the assembled leaders, there is much urgency in the short-term about the rapidly deteriorating situation around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant. The plant, which is Europe’s largest, is currently controlled by Russia, yet still staffed by Ukrainian workers. The plant finds itself right at the front lines of the current battle, as Russia controls the southern bank of the Dnieper River, while Ukraine is in control of the northern bank just across from the sprawling nuclear plant. The United Nations has repeatedly called for a demilitarized zone around the plant, calls which Russia has ignored. Ukraine has accused Russia of launching military strikes from the plant and using it as a shield to thwart any sort of Ukrainian response. Ukraine and the UN have agreed on a plan to allow analysts from the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the plant, but this agreement is useless without the cooperation of Russia. On Thursday, Russia claimed that the plant had been shelled multiple times by Ukrainian forces and that such shelling is increasing the risk of a “nuclear meltdown”, warning that a meltdown of the plant would spread radioactive material throughout Western Europe. This risk could be especially dangerous, considering that NATO has since affirmed that the purposeful spread of radioactive material over a NATO member state would be a reason to trigger Article 5, the collective defense clause of the NATO agreement. Secretary General Guterres would like to reduce any risk of a nuclear “catastrophe” in the area, saying during the meeting in Lviv that an “agreement is urgently needed to reestablish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area.” So far, Russia has called the idea of demilitarizing the area around the plant “unacceptable”.

The meeting in Lviv comes just two weeks after Turkish President Erdoğan met with Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi. There the two talked about deepening existing economic ties between the two countries and Russia reaffirmed its commitment to allow Ukrainian grain to be exported through the Black Sea. So far, there are no plans for a future meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in any capacity.

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