Erdogan warns of "another Chernobyl" .. and Washington is preparing to inject additional aid to Ukraine

Erdogan warns of “another Chernobyl” .. and Washington is preparing to inject additional aid to Ukraine

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine during his first direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, since the Russian invasion, repeating calls made by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is visiting Odessa on Friday.

The outbreak of fighting around Europe’s largest nuclear facility located in southern Ukraine and under Russian control, prompted a number of world leaders to issue urgent warnings, including Guterres, who warned during talks with Erdogan that any damage to the plant would be tantamount to “suicide.”

“We are worried. We don’t want to live another Chernobyl,” Erdogan said at a press conference in the western city of Lviv, assuring President Zelensky that Turkey is a strong ally of Ukraine. “While we continue our efforts for a solution, we have been and will remain on the side of our Ukrainian friends,” the Turkish president said.

Erdogan indicated that he discussed with Guterres and Zelensky building on the recent positive atmosphere to revive the peace negotiations with Russia that took place in Istanbul in March.

He continued, “I personally maintain my belief that the war will eventually end at the negotiating table.”

Guterres, for his part, said he was “deeply concerned” about the situation at the station, which he said should be “demilitarised”. “We have to say things as they are: any possible damage to Zaporizhia would be tantamount to suicide,” he added.

Erdogan, who has a major geopolitical rivalry with the Kremlin but maintains a close working relationship with Vladimir Putin, met the Russian president less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The Turkish president and Guterres were key mediators in an agreement signed in Istanbul last month that allowed the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine after the Russian invasion cut off essential global supplies.

Prior to the press conference with Zelensky, the Ukrainian Ports Authority announced that the 25th cargo ship had sailed, under this agreement, to Egypt carrying 33,000 tons of grain.

Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s largest grain exporters. The halt in exports has pushed up grain prices and raised fears of a global food shortage.

Guterres said during a meeting with reporters that the parties hope to intensify efforts to enhance operations in three southern ports designated to deal with exports under the agreement, stressing, “We will do everything in our power to intensify our operations in order to meet the difficulties of the coming winter.”

Guterres continues his visit to Ukraine on Friday with a trip to Odessa, one of the ports covered by the agreement to resume grain exports. He is expected to go to Turkey at a later time to visit the body charged with overseeing the export agreement.

“They should go first.”

The success of the grain agreement contrasted with the failure of peace talks at the start of the war. On Thursday, Zelensky rejected any peace with Russia unless it withdraws its forces from Ukraine. He told reporters he was “very surprised” to hear from Erdogan that Russia was “ready for some kind of peace.”

He added: “They must first leave our lands, and then we will see.” Fighting raged along the front line Thursday and early Friday.

Shelling of the neighboring cities of Kharkiv and Krasnograd killed at least six people and wounded 25, Thursday, just a day after Russian bombing killed 13 people in the country’s second largest city.

The bombing targeted early Friday morning the city of Nikopol, according to a local military official, while the mayor of Mykolaiv reported “huge explosions” at about the same time.

In parallel, two Russian villages in the Belgorod region were evacuated Thursday after a fire broke out in an ammunition depot near the Ukrainian border, according to local authorities. The fire broke out after a series of explosions at Russian military facilities near Ukraine, one of which Moscow admitted was caused by an act of “sabotage”.

Meanwhile, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that the administration of US President Joe Biden is simultaneously preparing about $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine and could announce it as soon as Friday.

“Provocation” in Zarporizhia?

Fighting in recent weeks has centered around the Zaporizhia region in the south, and the nuclear facility located there. After direct talks with Guterres, Zelensky called on the United Nations to ensure security at the station, accusing Russia of “deliberate” attacks on the facility.

Russian forces took control of the station in March. The ambiguity of the situation there raised fears of a nuclear accident. Moscow denied the Ukrainian statements, Thursday, stressing that its forces had not deployed heavy weapons in Zaporizhia, accusing Kyiv of preparing a “provocation” there that would make Russia “accused of causing a man-made disaster at the station.”

But Kyiv insisted that Moscow was planning a “provocation” at the facility.

And the Ukrainian military intelligence wrote in a Facebook post, Thursday night, Friday, that it had received reports that all the operating staff of the plant, except for a “small part of the workers” in it, received orders to stay in their homes, Friday, while representatives of the state nuclear energy company “left the site of the facility” Russian.

“Given the number of weapons currently on the nuclear reactor territory as well as the frequent provocative bombing, there is a high probability of a large-scale terrorist attack on the nuclear facility,” she added.

“Russia must immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, as well as stop any provocations and bombings,” Zelensky said.

For his part, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s seizure of the plant “poses a serious threat” and called for Russia’s withdrawal and the inspection of the facility by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency.

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