Russians Flee To Istanbul After Mobilisation Call

People walk past vehicles with Russian license plates parked at the Georgian side of the Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia some 200 km outside Tbilisi, on September 25, 2022. VANO SHLAMOVAFP

 

 

A stream of Russians flocking to Istanbul on Saturday expressed personal relief but concern for the safety of loved ones after the Kremlin announced a partial mobilisation for the war in Ukraine.

The price of some tickets from Moscow shot up 10-fold after President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced Russia’s first call-up of fighting-age men since World War II.

All those carrying hurriedly-packed belongings refused to give their full names for fear of retribution by Russian police against those still at home.

But all described anxiety not felt since the first days of Russia’s invasion of its Western-backed neighbour on February 24.

“We were talking to our friends and many are thinking about leaving,” said Daria, 22.

“Not everyone wanted to leave in February. The decision of September 21 forced many to think about it again.”


READ ALSO: Russia Stiffens Penalty For Surrender, Replaces Top General


Her husband Andrei, 23, said he had been thinking of leaving since the first days of the war.

The mobilisation was the last straw.

“A lot of people decided to leave right now,” he said.

But Andrei also worried that speaking to reporters might cause issues for his family and friends back home.

“Yes, I think that things I am saying to you now — I am worried that there might be some punishment for that,” he said, standing next to a huge suitcase.

“The laws (in Russia) are very loosely applied. If they want to, they will find a reason to punish you.”

Fear of closed borders

Putin’s mobilisation order is designed to fill Russia’s military with hundreds of thousands of men after a string of setbacks that appears to have changed the tide in the seven-month war.

Turkey, a top holiday destination for many Russians, is among the few countries still operating flights out of Russia.

Russians can also reach Turkey without a travel visa, which makes trips purchased at the last minute much easier.

Flights to Turkey almost immediately sold out after Putin’s television announcement.

The last few tickets sold by popular Russian travel sites shot up in price because of soaring demand, making escape too expensive for many.

Turkish Airlines began using bigger aircraft on its Russia services, switching to wide-body Boeing 777s, because it could not immediately schedule more flights.

“Turkey is our intermediate point. We are here temporarily because there is a danger that the borders will be closed for good,” Daria said.

“But this is not certain and no one really knows.”

‘We feel pressure’

Sasha, a 48-year-old company manager, said he knew of people who were trying to flee but could not.

“I think that many people would like to leave Russia but there are very few flights,” he told AFP at the airport.

Sasha said it was difficult to gauge the true mood of Russians after the mobilisation order because some still supported the war and were willing to fight.

“There is no consensus in Russia right now. Some people support Putin, some people don’t support him,” he said.

“It depends on their view of war and their philosophy.”

He added that many were too afraid to speak their mind.

“Of course we feel pressure. In Russia, there is a system of facial monitoring. And if someone sees your face, it is very easy to identify who you are,” Sasha said.

“This interview could be interpreted as being bad for the Russian army. In the future, people who give an interview like this could face problems.”

Andrei said he was now particularly worried about one of his childhood friends.

“My friend was unable to buy a ticket because it already cost 400,000 rubles ($7,000). That’s 10 times more expensive than before,” he said.

Turkey Offers To Mediate In Ukraine Nuclear Plant Standoff

File photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered on Saturday to mediate in the standoff over a Russian-occupied nuclear power station in Ukraine stoking fears of an atomic disaster.

The offer came hours before the global atomic energy watchdog said that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility had been disconnected from its last remaining main power line to the grid and was now relying on a reserve line.

Alarm has grown in recent weeks over shelling in the area of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine said Friday it had bombed a Russian base in the nearby town of Energodar, destroying three artillery systems as well as an ammunition depot.

Erdogan on Saturday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that “Turkey can play a facilitator role in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as they did in the grain deal,” the Turkish presidency said.

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, was forced to halt almost all deliveries after Russia invaded in late February, raising fears of a global food crisis.

Exports of grain across Black Sea ports resumed after Kyiv and Moscow signed a deal in July, with the United Nations and Turkey acting as guarantors.

There was no immediate mention of Erdogan having also spoken to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday to offer his mediation.

Gas deliveries halted

Last month, Erdogan warned of the danger of a nuclear disaster when he visited the western city of Lviv for talks with the Ukrainian leader.

The Turkish president said he wanted to avoid “another Chernobyl”, referring to the world’s worst nuclear accident in another part of Ukraine in 1986, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

This week, a 14-strong team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Zaporizhzhia, with the UN nuclear watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossi saying the site had been damaged in fighting.

“Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has once again lost the connection to its last remaining main external power line,” the IAEA said in a statement Saturday.

“But the facility is continuing to supply electricity to the grid through a reserve line,” the agency added.

The Russian invasion of pro-Western Ukraine has killed thousands of people and caused millions to flee their homes.

Western powers have reacted by dispatching military aid to Kyiv in a bid to stem the Russian advance and slapping economic sanctions on Moscow.

On Friday, the Group of Seven major industrial democracies vowed to move urgently to set a price cap on Russian oil imports, a crucial source of revenue for Moscow.

As if on cue, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had halted gas deliveries to Germany for an indefinite period as there were leaks in a turbine.

Its German manufacturer said that was not a valid reason to halt gas flows.

‘We need more unity’

EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said Saturday the European Union was in better shape to handle the possibility of a total halt in Russian gas deliveries, thanks to storage capacity and energy-saving measures.

“We are well prepared to resist Russia’s extreme use of the gas weapon,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the European House-Ambrosetti economic forum.

In the European Union, “gas storage is currently at about 80 percent, thanks to the diversification of supplies,” even if the situation varies from one country to another, Gentiloni said.

Zelensky picked up on the theme in his evening address Saturday.

“Russia wants to destroy the normal life of every European — in all countries of our continent,” he said, referring to the shutdown of the Nord Stream pipeline.

Where it could not do so by military means, it weaponised its energy resources, he added.

“To protect ourselves in Europe, we need more unity, more coordination, more help to each other.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of storing ammunition at Zaporizhzhia and deploying hundreds of soldiers there.

It also suspects Moscow is intending to divert power from the plant to the nearby Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

Three More Grain Ships Leave Ukraine – Turkey

Malta-flagged bulk carrier M/V Rojen vessel, carrying tons of corn, leaves the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk, before heading to Teesport in the United Kingdom, on August 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by OLEKSANDR GIMANOV / AF

 

Three more ships loaded with grain sailed from Ukraine on Friday under a UN-backed deal lifting Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, Turkey’s defence ministry said.

The Panama-flagged Navistar left Odessa for Ireland with 33,000 tonnes of grain, it said.

And two ships left the port of Chornomorsk — the Malta-flagged Rojen headed to Britain with 13,000 tonnes of grain, and the Turkish-flagged Polarnet sailed towards Turkey with 12,000 tonnes of grain.

An empty Barbados-flagged ship, the Fulmar, was headed to the port of Chornomorsk to be loaded with grain, it said.

READ ALSO: [FG] Insecurity Has Not Affected Food Production Significantly Across Nigeria

Moscow and Kyiv agreed in Istanbul last month to resume shipments of wheat and other grain from Ukrainian ports for the first time since Russia invaded its neighbour in February.

The first ship, loaded with 26,000 tonnes of maize, set off from Odessa on Monday for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni was cleared for passage through the Bosphorus Strait by a team that included Russian and Ukrainian inspectors on Wednesday.

The ship’s passage is being overseen by an international team that includes officials from Turkey, the United Nations, and the two warring parties.

The team said in a statement the first ship’s successful passage offered “proof of concept” that the agreement can hold.

Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat and other grain.

The halt of almost all deliveries from Ukraine has sent global food prices soaring, making imports prohibitively expensive for some of the world’s poorest nations.

AFP

First Grain Shipment Leaves Ukraine As Southern City Pounded

The Sierra Leone-flagged dry cargo ship Razoni, carrying a cargo of 26,000 tonnes of corn, departed from the Black Sea port of Odesa, amid Russia’s military invasion launched on Ukraine.

 

The first shipment of Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on Monday morning, Turkey announced, as Kyiv said the “brutal” shelling by Moscow of the southern city Mykolaiv had killed an agriculture tycoon.

The blockage of deliveries from warring Russia and Ukraine — two of the world’s biggest grain exporters — has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard.

Last month both sides signed a landmark deal with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at relieving the global food crisis.

“The ship Razoni has left the port of Odessa bound for Tripoli in Lebanon,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

“It is expected in Istanbul on August 2. It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul,” the statement added.

Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, it said.

The Joint Coordination Centre, the organisation overseeing the grain exports, said the Razoni is carrying “over 26,000 metric tonnes” of maize.

 Tycoon killed

While the much-needed grain exports will be welcomed, the war in Ukraine rages on.

AFP journalists witnessed intense Russian bombardment of the eastern town of Bakhmut after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for civilians to leave the frontline Donetsk region bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Authorities in Mykolaiv said Sunday that widespread Russian bombardments overnight killed at least two civilians.

“Today, one of the most brutal shellings of Mykolaiv and the region over the entire period of the full-scale war took place. Dozens of missiles and rockets,” Zelensky said in an address.

“I want to thank every resident of Mykolaiv for their indomitability.”

Ukrainian agricultural magnate Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, and his wife Raisa were killed when a missile struck their house, authorities said.

Vadatursky owned major grain exporter Nibulon and was previously decorated with the prestigious “Hero of Ukraine” award.

Zelensky offered condolences and paid tribute to Vadatursky in his Sunday address.

Mykolaiv — which has been attacked frequently — is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv’s forces are looking to launch a major counter-offensive to recapture territory lost after Russia’s February invasion.

 Drone attack

Russian authorities in the Crimean Black Sea peninsula — seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 — said a small explosive device from a commercial drone, likely launched nearby, hit the navy command in Sevastopol.

The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack that forced the cancellation of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.

But Ukraine’s navy accused Russia of staging the attacks as a pretext to cancel the festivities.

The claim and counterclaim came as the dispute over which side struck a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka rumbled on.

Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday it had invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations to visit the site “in the interests of an objective investigation”.

But the ICRC said Sunday it had yet to receive approval to enter the site.

Russia’s military said 50 Ukrainian servicemen died, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of resisting the bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.

Ukraine says Russia was behind the attack, with Zelensky accusing Moscow of the “deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”.

 Intense bombardments

AFP journalists on Sunday saw one wounded man collected by an ambulance after a ferocious bombardment of the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

Zelensky warned on the weekend that thousands of people, including children, were still in Donetsk’s battleground areas.

He urged people to leave the besieged region, echoing calls from the authorities in recent weeks to evacuate.

“Leave, we will help,” Zelensky said. “At this stage of the war, terror is the main weapon of Russia.”

Official Ukrainian estimates put the number of civilians still living in the unoccupied area of Donetsk at between 200,000 and 220,000.

A mandatory evacuation notice posted Saturday evening said the coming winter made it a matter of urgency, particularly for the more than 50,000 children.

Kateryna Novakivska, a deputy commander of a Ukrainian unit, said she was fighting so her comrades could be reunited with their families.

“The morale of our servicemen is at a high level now, but everyone wants to visit their homes, see their relatives and loved ones,” she said.

AFP

Ukraine War: First Grain Cargo Could Leave Port On Monday, Says Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

A spokesman for the Turkish presidency said there was a “high probability” that a first ship carrying Ukrainian grain could leave Ukraine’s port of Odessa on Monday.

That is despite Russian missiles hitting the city in the wake of the July 22 agreement on shipping grain between Russia, Turkey, the UN and Ukraine.

“There is a strong possibility that a first ship could leave tomorrow morning if everything is sorted out by this evening,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an interview with Kanal 7 television Sunday.

But Kalin said there were still “one or two subjects to be settled in the negotiations with the Russians”.

READ ALSO: US, NATO ‘Main Threats’ To National Security – Russia

“Preparations have reached a point to allow the ships to leave the port of Odessa. The ships have been loaded, they are ready to leave, but we need good logistical coordination,” he said.

The resumption of exports was also discussed in talks between the Turkish and Ukrainian defence ministers, Ankara said Sunday.

“It is planned to begin transport as soon as possible,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

The Joint Coordination Centre, charged with controlling Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, was officially inaugurated Wednesday in Istanbul in line with the deal.

The deal to lift the blockade — the first significant text involving both sides since the conflict began — is aimed at easing a global food crisis that has seen prices soar in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The coordination centre is responsible for registering and tracking merchant ships taking part in the convoys, monitoring them via the web and satellite, and inspecting the ships as they are loaded at Ukrainian ports and when they arrive at Turkish ports.

bg/gw/imm

Turkey Supports Finland And Sweden NATO Bid

This handout photograph taken and released on June 28, 2022 in Madrid by Turkish Presidential press office, shows (Back, From L) NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and (Front, From L) Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signing a memorandum during a NATO summit in Madrid. Murat CETIN MUHURDAR / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
This handout photograph taken and released on June 28, 2022 in Madrid by Turkish Presidential press office, shows (Back, From L) NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and (Front, From L) Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signing a memorandum during a NATO summit in Madrid. Murat CETIN MUHURDAR / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday lifted his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO following crunch talks with the leaders of the two Nordic countries in Madrid.

Erdogan had stubbornly refused to green light the applications from the Nordic pair — lodged in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine — despite calls from his NATO allies to clear the path for them to enter.

Turkey could essentially veto Finland and Sweden from joining NATO since all members must agree to taking on new members.

But late on Tuesday, Erdogan’s office said it had agreed to back their drives to join, saying Ankara had “got what it wanted”.

READ ALSO: Russia Demands Ukraine Surrender As NATO Readies For Finland, Sweden Membership

“Turkey has made significant gains in the fight against terrorist organisations,” the office said ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid.

Ankara had accused Finland and especially Sweden of offering a safe haven to Kurdish militants who have been waging decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The two Nordic countries also agreed to lift their embargoes on weapons deliveries to Turkey, which were imposed in response to Ankara’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

Turkey signed a memorandum with Finland and Sweden on Tuesday supporting the invitation for the Nordic countries to become members of NATO, the Finnish presidency said.

NATO allies including Britain hailed the agreement.

‘Addresses Turkey’s concerns’

The move comes after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg mediated talks in Madrid between Erdogan and the leaders of Sweden and Finland.

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” he said.

The agreement “addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports, and the fight against terrorism,” he added.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Tuesday hailed a “very good agreement” with Turkey but insisted Sweden had not made too many concessions to Erdogan.

“Taking the next step toward a full NATO membership is of course important for Sweden and Finland. But it’s also a very important step for NATO, because our countries will be security providers within NATO,” Andersson told AFP in an interview.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also welcomed the agreement.

“Sweden and Finland’s membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Sweden and Finland went into the NATO meeting open to the possibility that Turkey might only lift its objections after the summit concludes on Thursday.

US hails Turkey’s decision

A US official insisted on Tuesday that no concessions were given to Turkey to secure its green light.

“There was no request from the Turkish side for the Americans to make a particular concession,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official called Turkey’s decision a “powerful shot in the arm” for NATO unity.

Erdogan is expected to meet with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday on the sidelines of the gathering focused on responding to the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

Erdogan and Biden have had a chilly relationship since Biden’s election because of US concerns about human rights under Erdogan.

Biden and Erdogan last met briefly in October on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome.

Fighter jet talks

Erdogan’s ability to maintain a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin while supporting Ukraine’s war effort has made him an important player in the conflict.

But those ties have also complicated his relations with Biden and NATO.

Washington has sanctioned Ankara for taking delivery of an advanced Russian missile defence system in 2019.

The purchase saw the United States drop Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter programme and impose trade restrictions on its military procurement agency.

But Washington has signalled it may be willing to move past the dispute.

Biden’s administration has dangled the possibility of supplying Ankara with older-generation F-16 jets that could replenish Turkey’s ageing air force fleet.

“The most important issue is the F-16 issue. It is still on the table,” Erdogan said of his upcoming talks with Biden.

 

AFP

Israel Urges Nationals To Leave Turkey Immediately Over Iran Attack Threat

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2022.
Maya Alleruzzo / POOL / AFP

 

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday urged citizens in Turkey to leave “as soon as possible” over threats that Iranian operatives are actively planning attacks on Israelis in Istanbul.

“There is a real and immediate danger,” Lapid said. “If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible… If you have planned a flight to Istanbul — cancel. No vacation is worth your life,” he added, citing “several Iranian attempts at carrying out terror attacks against Israelis on holiday.

Turkey Braces For More Bad Weather After Floods Kill Four

Galataport is pictured from The Costa Venezia cruising ship moored in Istanbul, on June 6, 2022. –  (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

 

Strong rain, winds and flash floods are expected in northern and central Turkey on Monday, after a weekend of flooding that reportedly killed at least four people.

Bad weather warnings were in place in 42 towns and cities in the north and centre, including the capital, Ankara.

Schools were closed in Ankara and the central town of Gemerek.

Last year, around 100 people died in violent weather events in Turkey, including flash floods, wildfires and droughts.

The disasters pushed climate change up the political agenda, especially among younger voters.

Torrential rains and hailstorms swept through the north and centre at the weekend, causing floods that killed three people near Ankara and another in the central province of Karaman, local media reported.

Rescue services were still searching on Monday for a person missing in the Ankara region.

Several towns were damaged by the floods.

Eight villages in the northern province of Kastamonu were still cut off on Monday after several roads collapsed.

Turkey Opposes NATO Membership For Finland, Sweden

A handout photograph taken and released on October 25, 2021 by the Turkish Presidential Press Service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. Murat KULA / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
FILE: A handout photograph taken and released on October 25, 2021 by the Turkish Presidential Press Service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. Murat KULA / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey did not have a “positive opinion” on Finland and Sweden joining NATO, throwing up a potential obstacle for the nations’ membership bid. 

The leader of NATO-member Turkey spoke ahead of expected confirmations from the Nordic nations on Sunday that they will apply to join the Western military alliance.

Erdogan accused both countries of harbouring “terrorist organisations” in his unfavourable assessment of the membership bids.

READ ALSO: Finland Will Join NATO ‘Without Delay’ – President, PM

“We do not have a positive opinion,” Erdogan told journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul.

“Scandinavian countries are like a guesthouse for terror organisations,” he said.

Turkey has long accused Nordic countries, especially Sweden which has a strong Turkish immigrant community, of harbouring extremist Kurdish groups as well as supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher wanted over a failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan cited a “mistake” made by Turkey’s former rulers who okayed Greece’s NATO membership in 1952.

“We, as Turkey, do not want to make a second mistake on this issue,” he said.

Unanimous approval needed

Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has swung political and public opinion in Finland and Sweden in favour of membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

Both countries have long cooperated with NATO and are expected to be able to join the alliance quickly.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said they would be welcomed “with open arms”.

Turkey’s response is the first dissenting voice against the two Nordic countries’ NATO prospects.

Sweden’s and Finland’s foreign ministers responded on Friday by saying they were hoping to meet their Turkish counterpart in Berlin at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Saturday.

“We will then have the opportunity to discuss a potential Swedish NATO application,” Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde said in a statement to AFP, also noting the “Turkish government had not delivered this type of message directly to us”.

Speaking at a Helsinki press conference, Finland’s Pekka Haavisto also said he hoped to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during the weekend to “continue our discussion.”

Stockholm and Helsinki have cranked up their international contacts to seek support for their potential bids.

Once a country has decided to apply for NATO membership, the alliance’s 30 members must agree unanimously to extend a formal invitation, which is followed by membership negotiations.

The final approval could then take place at a NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June. The 30 member states would then have to ratify the decision.

Turkey, which enjoys good relations with Kyiv and Moscow, has been keen to play a mediating role to end the conflict and has offered to host a leaders’ summit.

Ankara has supplied Ukraine with combat drones but has shied away from slapping sanctions on Russia alongside Western allies.

‘Hungary of the EU’

Erdogan’s comments may also raise tensions with France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has said NATO was undergoing “brain death” partly due to Turkey’s behaviour.

Macron has made clear he supports Finland’s bid as does the United States.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday Washington was “working to clarify Turkey’s position”, adding there was “broad support” for the two countries’ joining the alliance.

The Finnish president spoke with Erdogan in April as part of consultations for its NATO bid.

“I thanked President Erdogan for his efforts for peace in Ukraine. Turkey supports Finland’s objectives,” he tweeted at the time.

Turkey’s position on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership risks making it look like the “Hungary of the EU”, said Washington Institute fellow Soner Cagaptay.

Pro-Russia Hungary often breaks from its EU colleagues on a broad range of issues, including rule of law and human rights.

Cagaptay said Ankara should have negotiated its terror-related concerns behind closed doors with the two countries.

“The fact that this is done publicly is going to hurt Ankara’s image significantly,” he said.

But Erdogan is “a clever tactician”, said Elisabeth Braw, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“He knows that this is an opportunity for Turkey to get something from NATO member states… F-35s, for example,” she said, referring to US defence giant Lockheed Martin’s jets.

AFP

Turkey Confirms Transfer Of Khashoggi Murder Trial To Saudi Arabia

In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attends a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (Photo by MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFP)

 

A Turkish court on Thursday confirmed a halt to the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh, a decision that has angered rights groups.  

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

A Turkish court began the trial in 2020 with relations tense between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers.

But with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of economic crisis, Ankara has sought to heal the rift with Riyadh.

READ ALSO: EU Court Rules In Favour Of Mubarak Family On Assets Freeze

The judge told the court: “We decided to halt and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia.”

The court decision comes almost a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that he would approve a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia, at the latter’s demand.

The prosecutor said the case was “dragging” because, as the defendants were foreigners, the court’s orders could not be carried out.

‘Entrusting lamb to wolf’

Defence lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court on Thursday that there would not be a fair trial in Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, using a Turkish saying.

Another defence lawyer, Gokmen Baspinar, said that the justice ministry’s move was “against the law.”

“There is no prosecution going on in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” he said. “Saudi authorities have concluded the trial and acquitted many suspects.”

He said the decision to hand over the case to Riyadh would be tantamount to a “breach of Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility against Turkish people”.

The decision has deeply angered rights groups.

The Istanbul tribunal “agreed to transfer the case to the Saudi authorities — in one sentence, just like that. Didn’t even bother to state the lawyers’ requests are rejected,” Milena Buyum, of Amnesty International, said.

She tweeted: “Appalling and clearly political decision.”

Five people were sentenced to death by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the sentences, handing jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

Appeal

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was present at the hearing on Thursday, said that she would appeal the decision.

Turkey “is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a justice system that addresses citizens’ grievances,” she told journalists outside Istanbul’s main court.

“We will appeal the decision in line with our legal system”.

Speaking to AFP, she vowed to “continue to fight. Whoever gives up has given up. I will continue. Sometimes the legal battle itself is more important than the results.”

To Riyadh’s dismay, Turkey pressed ahead with the Khashoggi case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had, at the time, said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of government.

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia sought unofficially to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Riyadh to mend fences with the kingdom.

Transferring the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to a normalisation of ties.

In an interview with AFP in February, Cengiz urged Ankara to insist on justice despite the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

“In order for such a thing to not happen again…(Turkey) should not abandon this case,” she said.

Cengiz had been waiting outside the consulate for Khashoggi when he was murdered. He had gone there to obtain paperwork to marry her. His remains have never been found.

Erdogan has sought to improve ties with regional rivals including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up — particularly from the West.

In January, he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy went through a tumultuous period.

Turkey’s annual inflation has soared to 61.1 percent, according to official data Monday.

 

AFP

Abramovich: The Surprise Participant In Russia-Ukraine Talks

This handout video grab taken from a footage released on March 29, 2022 by the Turkish Presidency shows Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich (C, 2nd row) during the first Russia and Ukraine face-to-face talks in weeks at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul.. (Photo by Handout / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

 

 

When Turkey hosted talks between Russia and Ukraine last week, a familiar but unexpected face was seen among the officials and diplomats gathered in a wing of the former imperial Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. 

It was Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian tycoon and owner of Chelsea Football Club, who has long sought to strike a balance between cordial ties with the Kremlin and a jet-setting lifestyle in the West.

What was he doing at the Istanbul talks?

“Abramovich participated in the negotiations as a member of the Russian delegation,” explained Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He said Abramovich’s presence indicated that the oligarch was “trusted” by Moscow.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Abramovich had been making “sincere” efforts for peace since the first days of the war, adding that he had made a “positive” contribution to diplomatic efforts.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while Abramovich was not an official member of the delegation, he was involved in “ensuring certain contacts” between the Russian and Ukrainian sides, for which he had approval from both parties.

Adding to the intrigue, the Wall Street Journal last week reported that Abramovich had travelled to Kyiv earlier in March to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. While there, he suffered a suspected poisoning attack that temporarily affected his eyesight.

‘Right side of history’

Analysts say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a personal disaster for Abramovich, leaving him sanctioned by the EU and UK, forced to sell Chelsea and seeing billions wiped off the value of his assets.

He has every personal interest in seeing a peaceful end to the conflict and possibly performing a role that could allow him to win back favour in the Western capitals that once welcomed him so ardently.

Alexander Baunov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Abramovich’s presence at the talks had “various possible explanations” but could be linked to “reparations” in rebuilding areas destroyed in Ukraine, possibly using private money.

“For Abramovich, it’s also a welcome chance to be on the right side of history,” he added.

For critics, the situation has merely exposed the reality that Abramovich is a Kremlin-friendly oligarch, who managed to build up his wealth thanks to close ties with President Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich has “had privileged access to the president and has maintained very good relations with him. This connection with the Russian leader helped him to maintain his considerable wealth,” the EU said last month when it announced sanctions against Abramovich and other Russia oligarchs over Ukraine.

In a possible bid to avoid being hit by sanctions, two luxury superyachts owned by Abramovich –- the over 160-metre Eclipse and 140-metre Solaris –- have docked in Turkey, which has not joined the European sanctions.

 ‘PR stunt?’

Maria Pevchikh, investigative chief at Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, described Abramovich as “the most faithful and devoted of Putin’s oligarchs”. She said they had profited from a tacit deal with the Kremlin to stay out of politics.

His participation in the talks “looks like a PR stunt to me”, she said.

In a surprising career turn, Abramovich served from 2001 to 2008 as governor of the sparsely populated Chukotka region in the far northeast of Russia, pouring his own money into one of the country’s least developed regions.

Abramovich used to be a co-owner, along with the government, of Russia’s Channel One television. The channel has earned notoriety during the invasion for its pro-Kremlin reporting and for being the target of an on-air protest by a disgruntled journalist.

He reduced his stake to 20 percent and then sold off that final portion to a Russian state-owned bank in March 2019.

According to Forbes magazine, the invasion of Ukraine has resulted in Abramovich’s net worth being whittled down to $8.3 billion (7.6 billion euros), compared to almost $15 billion before the assault started.

“And he likely has only limited access to that,” it said, describing the invasion as a “personal, financial and now physical disaster” for Abramovich.

‘Rehabilitate himself’

Famously publicity-shy and never giving interviews, Abramovich announced in a rare personal statement on March 2 that he was selling Chelsea Football Club, although the UK sanctions mean he cannot profit from the sale.

In a carefully worded statement that contained no criticism of the Russian invasion, he said then that a foundation would be set up “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”, including their immediate needs as well as “supporting the long-term work of recovery”.

“The most important thing is that Putin trusts him. But Zelensky can also trust him,” Konstantin Kalachev, a Russian political scientist who once worked with the ruling party, told AFP.

“Abramovich must rehabilitate himself in the West. He wants to keep his status as a citizen of the world. I doubt very much that he would want to isolate himself in Russia.”

Ukraine Asks Turkey To Be Among Guarantors Of Any Russia Deal

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference after meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister for talks in Antalya, on March 10, 2022. – Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are in Turkey to hold face-to-face talks in the first high-level contact since the invasion began. (Photo by AFP)

 

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has asked Turkey to be a guarantor of any future deal with Russia, along with the UN Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany, Ankara’s top diplomat said Thursday.

“Ukraine made an offer on the collective security agreement: P5 (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members), Turkey and Germany,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“I saw that the Russian Federation had no objection and could accept such an offer,” he added, referring to his meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday.

The five permanent UN Security Council members are China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States.

Cavusoglu said ceasefire hopes in the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow had “increased” following his diplomacy in Russia and Ukraine.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday to repeat his offer of hosting a meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ankara or Istanbul.

Erdogan also underlined “the necessity of opening humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians to flee the fighting, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Turkey, which has close ties with Ukraine and Russia, has tried to position itself as a mediator in the three-week-old conflict.

Last week, it hosted the first high-level meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers since the war began in the southern resort city of Antalya.

AFP