President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Monday that Russia should return all Ukrainian territory it has seized, indicating that talks he has helped broker are moving in that direction.
“The countries that were invaded will be returned to Ukraine,” said Mr. Erdogan an interview with “PBS NewsHour.” He was careful not to criticize President Vladimir V. Putin over his conduct of the war, but drew a clear line on the return of territory.
“This is what is expected,” said Mr. Erdogan. “This is what is wanted. Putin has taken certain steps. We have taken certain steps.”
“An invasion cannot be justified,” he added.
Sir. Erdogan has positioned himself as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia and hosted the initial peace talks in Istanbul in March, although those discussions were inconclusive. In the interview, Mr. Erdogan that Moscow and Kiev may be close to reaching an agreement to exchange 200 “hostages”, which would be one of the largest prisoner swaps in the seven-month war.
“Two hundred hostages will be exchanged by agreement between the parties. I think a significant step forward will be taken,” he said, without giving further details.
Ukraine and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap in late June, in which 144 Ukrainians were exchanged, most of them fighters from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
News of the possible exchange came shortly after Mr Putin met with Mr Erdogan last week in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to discuss the war. Mr. Erdogan said the meeting gave him the impression that “he is willing to end this as soon as possible.”
“This is a conflict that ended in casualties,” said Mr. Erdogan. “The people die and nobody will win at the end of the day.”
Mr. Erdogan also expressed opposition to the annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia captured in 2014. He said he had repeatedly asked Moscow to “return Crimea to its rightful owners”, to no avail.
The relationship between the two autocrats has grown closer in recent years, defined by fluctuating power dynamics and mutual interests. Turkey has opposed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but Mr. Erdogan has tried to maintain a close relationship with Mr. Putin and trying to mitigate the fallout in Turkey from the Ukraine war as he heads into an election year with his country’s economy imploding.
He has refused to apply Western economic sanctions against Russia’s industry and the wider economy and brokered a deal to allow grain exports out of Ukraine. The two leaders have met several times to discuss expanding their diplomatic partnership and to negotiate economic cooperation.
Mr. Erdogan’s comments came after fighting broke out last week on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave at the center of a decades-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia – with Turkey backing Azerbaijan and Russia intervening to save Armenia. The deadly clashes have raised the prospect of Russia’s waning influence after Moscow moved some of its troops from the southern Caucasus to Ukraine.