Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Russia return the occupied territories to Ukraine seized after the February 24 invasion.
The leader, who is seen as a mediator in the war and brokered a landmark agreement between Kyiv and Moscow with Ankara and the UN to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, insisted that "if peace is to be established in Ukraine, of course, the return of the attacked territory will be very important".
According to him, Moscow and Kyiv reached another deal: for the exchange of prisoners, covering about 200 people. However, he did not specify who would be included in it.
"No, undoubtedly no," Erdogan said when asked by US media PBS whether Russia should be allowed to keep territories captured after the invasion.
Erdogan, who is trying to maintain relations with both Russia and Ukraine, added that "the territories (including Crimea) will be returned" and that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has taken "certain steps" in this direction, no details.
He asked his "dear friend" Putin to return Crimea "to its rightful owners", the Ukrainians and the Tatars. There is no surprise in this position, since 2014 Ankara has insisted that it will never recognize as legal the annexation of the peninsula carried out by Russia in March of that year. Erdogan repeated the demand to return Crimea about a month ago.
“If peace is to be established in Ukraine, of course, the return of the attacked territory will be very important. This is expected, this is required. Putin has taken steps, so have we. The invaded territories will be returned,” said the Turkish President.
However, it is not clear from his words whether he is also referring to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which declared themselves independent eight years ago, and which requested help from Russia against Ukraine on February 23 - the last push before the start of the Russian invasion.
The Turkish head of state commented on the topic shortly before the occupied Kherson region and the self-proclaimed "people's republics" and Russian-recognized regions of Ukraine announced the holding of "referendums" on joining Russia this week.
His Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, described the holding of referendums as a red line beyond which there is no room for negotiations. Nevertheless, according to Erdogan, the Russian leader showed the will to end the war "as soon as possible".
Putin heard from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit that the war must end. In return, he assured Modi that he wanted the conflict to stop "as soon as possible".
In an interview with the American public media PBS, Erdogan explained that it was at the forum in Kazakhstan that Erdogan discussed the war in Ukraine with Putin.
“We talked for a long time. And he showed me that he was ready to end it as soon as possible. I got that impression because the way things are going at the moment is quite problematic,” said Erdogan.
The invasion cannot be justified by anything, according to Erdogan. However, when asked if Putin was wrong to invade Ukraine, he said: "No leader will say after the fact that it was a mistake, that he was wrong."