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Ukraine war latest: Zelensky rules out Erdogan's idea of peace summit with Russia during Turkey visit

by Kateryna Denisova and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 8, 2024 11:50 PM 8 min read
President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in Istanbul on March 8, 2024 (The Ukrainian Presidential Office) 
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Key developments on March 8:

  • Zelensky arrives in Turkey, meets Erdogan
  • French defense minister says no plans to deploy combat troops in Ukraine
  • India identifies 'major human trafficking network' luring Indians to fight for Russia in Ukraine
  • Governor: Russian drone attacks car in Vovchansk in Kharkiv Oblast, kills 2
  • Czech official: Allies yet to collect full funding for 800,000 shells earmarked for Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Turkey on March 8 to meet his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Among the topics the Ukrainian and Turkish leaders were planning to discuss were Ukraine's peace formula, the safety of navigation in the Black Sea, as well as the release of Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia, the President's Office said.

This is Zelensky’s second visit to this country since Russia launched its full-scale invasion against Ukraine.

After the previous trip in July 2023, Zelensky brought home five commanding officers who defended the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, and had been kept in Turkey under the personal guarantees of Erdogan after a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.

Zelensky also said he had visited a shipyard to inspect the building of corvettes for the Ukrainian Navy, and had spoken with Ukrainian Navy personnel.

President Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Turkey on March 8, 2024 (The Ukrainian Presidential Office)

The Associated Press, citing an unnamed Turkish government official, reported that during the talks in Istanbul, Erdogan was planning to "press for negotiations to end Russia’s war in Ukraine."

Following the meeting with Ukraine's president, Erdogan said at a joint press conference that Turkey was ready to hold a peace summit with the participation of Russia in the future. He noted that Ankara supports the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.

Zelensky ruled out this idea, saying that a summit with Moscow would be possible only after a just peace for Ukraine.

"We do not see Russian representatives at such a summit. We do not see how we can invite people who block, destroy and kill everything. We want to get a result, a just peace for Ukraine. Therefore, first, civilized countries will develop a plan, and only then Russia's representatives will be involved," Ukraine's president added.

The final rounds of unsuccessful peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow in 2022 took place in the Turkish city of Antalya. Maintaining close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, Ankara sought to position itself as a mediator in the war.

In late January, Russian state-run media reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin was making preparations to visit Turkey in February and meet with Erdogan. Soon after this, the Kremlin said that Putin would arrive to Turkey after the Russian presidential election set on March 15-17.

Top Chinese envoy visits Kyiv, meets Ukrainian officials
Ukrainian officials briefed the Chinese delegation on the situation on the battlefield, the work of the Black Sea grain corridor, the return of prisoners of war, Russia’s violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of POWs, measures to implement Ukraine’s peace formula, and preparat…

French defense minister says no plans to deploy combat troops in Ukraine

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said the idea of sending combat troops to Ukraine is "not on the table" in an interview with the French broadcaster BFMTV on March 8.

The comments came after French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that sending Western troops to Ukraine could not be "ruled out" in the future. The U.S. and many European allies have distanced themselves from Macron’s statement.

Lecornu said that while the deployment of combat troops is not currently being discussed, there is the possibility that France will send military personnel to Ukraine to train Ukrainian troops or participate in mine-clearing operations.

French arms manufacturers are planning to set up partnerships with Ukrainian companies and produce military equipment, potentially including ammunition, on Ukrainian soil, Lecornu added.

“We are no longer in the same situation as two years ago," he said, emphasizing that "We don't want to show weakness to Moscow."

Czech President Petr Pavel also said recently that he is in favor of looking for new ways to support Ukraine, including potentially sending troops for "non-combat engagement."

The Czech leader reportedly emphasized that he was not talking about sending combat units. According to Pavel, Kyiv’s allies could send a training mission to Ukraine.

"Ukraine, despite being attacked, is still a sovereign country," he said, adding that such a training mission would not violate any international norms.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as leaders of Germany, the U.K., Sweden, Poland, and other European NATO member states, ruled out sending Western troops to Ukraine.

During a two-hour State of the Nation address on Feb. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened "tragic consequences" if NATO troops were sent to Ukraine, claiming the West's support for Kyiv "risks a conflict using nuclear weapons."

Polish FM: ‘NATO forces presence in Ukraine is not unthinkable’
“The presence of NATO forces in Ukraine is not unthinkable,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said. “Because it is about (Russian President Vladimir) Putin being afraid, not us being afraid of Putin,” he added.

India identifies 'major human trafficking network' luring Indians to fight for Russia in Ukraine

The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) announced on March 7 that it had busted a "major human trafficking network" that used false pretenses to entice Indian nationals to fight with Russian forces in the war in Ukraine.

The news came after multiple media reports said that Indian men who came to Russia for work or tourism were then coerced or tricked into joining the war against Ukraine.

Russia's war against Ukraine has resulted in heavy casualties for the Russian military. Seeking to limit unpopular conscription among the domestic population, Moscow has been attracting foreign recruits from countries in Central or South Asia and elsewhere.

The CBI said the trafficking network was "luring Indian nationals through social media channels like Youtube etc., and also through their local contacts/agents for highly paid jobs in Russia."

"Thereafter, the trafficked Indian nationals were trained in combat roles and deployed at front bases in (the) Russia-Ukraine war zone against their wishes, thus, putting their lives in grave danger. It has been ascertained that some of the victims also got grievously injured in the war zone."

The Guardian and other media outlets have also reported that some Indian nationals have been killed fighting for Russia in Ukraine.

The CBI said it had conducted raids in 13 different locations in cities around India and had identified at least 35 instances of Indians being sent abroad. It did not specify if all 35 had been sent to Ukraine.

"We are aware... the Indian Embassy has taken up their early discharge with the relevant Russian authorities. We urge all Indians to stay away from this conflict," a spokesperson of the Indian government said.

"An appeal is made to the general public not to fall prey for such false promises of jobs by the dubious recruitment agencies and agents," the CBI said.

India's neighbor, Nepal, stopped issuing work permits for its citizens to work in Russia in January after growing numbers of Nepalese fighters have been reported killed fighting for the Russian army in Ukraine.

India and Russia have long had close ties. The Soviet Union was a critical supplier of military equipment to India as it faced off with its primary foe, Pakistan, which was backed by the U.S.

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, India has largely maintained a neutral stance, declining to condemn Moscow's military aggression or join the West in isolating Russia.

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that Indo-Russia ties are "very strong, very steady" at a press conference during his visit to Moscow in December 2023.

Governor: Russian drone attacks car in Vovchansk in Kharkiv Oblast, kills 2

Russian forces attacked a civilian car in the town of Vovchansk in Kharkiv Oblast on March 8, killing a 58-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman, according to preliminary data, Governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on Telegram.

The strike was carried out by a first-person view (FPV) kamikaze drone at around 3 p.m. local time, the governor said.

"According to witnesses, there could have been another person in the car," Syniehubov reported.

The town of Vovchansk, with a pre-war population of around 17,500 people, lies some 60 kilometers northeast of Kharkiv and less than 10 kilometers from the border with Russia. Along with other front-line settlements, Vovchansk suffers from near-daily attacks by Russian forces.

Earlier the same day, a Russian guided aerial bomb attack on a private house in Vovchansk killed a 40-year-old woman and injured a 67-year-old woman, damaging at least 12 houses, the authorities said.

Update: Russian missile strike on Chuhuiv in Kharkiv Oblast injures 7, including 3-year-old girl
Governor Oleh Syniehubov previously reported that two were injured in the attack, which damaged a nine-story residential building, a shopping mall, a bank, a shop, and a hotel.

Czech official: Allies yet to collect full funding for 800,000 shells earmarked for Ukraine

Czech National Security Advisor Tomas Pojar placed doubt on President Petr Pavel’s statement about acquiring all the funds needed to purchase 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine, Czech outlet Denik reported on March 8.

Pavel said in February that Prague had identified 500,000 155mm shells and 300,000 122mm shells outside Europe that could be bought and sent to Ukraine after the necessary funds were allocated to the initiative.

On March 7, the president announced that once Norway had joined the Czech-led allied initiative, the required funds had been collected.

"I assume that Mr. President meant the first batch's coverage, not our entire initiative. In any case, we do not have it covered yet," Pojar told Denik.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wrote earlier on X that raised funds would be enough to buy the first batch of 300,000 artillery shells.

"Our work and our help to Ukraine do not end here. We keep seeking partners so that we can continue to support Ukraine in its brave fight against the Russian aggressor," Fiala said.

The Czech Defense Ministry also published a statement on March 7, saying that Czechia is "working on various forms of artillery ammunition deliveries."

"The speed with which we manage to raise the necessary money is great," Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said.

"The initiative continues, and we are continuously looking for other ways to get ammunition for western and eastern origin. It is necessary to use the potential of this broad coalition," Cernochova added.

The Kyiv Independent made a request to the Czech Defense Ministry on the current status of the funds’ allocation for the initiative but was not provided with the details.

According to Pavel, 18 states have already contributed to the initiative, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Canada.

As $60 billion in aid for Ukraine from the U.S. remains stalled in Congress, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to face critical ammunition shortages.

Ukraine has already withdrawn from Avdiivka, a key front-line city in Donetsk Oblast, on Feb. 17 and from other nearby villages weeks later.

Luxembourg joins Czech-led ammunition initiative for Ukraine
Luxembourg’s Defense Minister Yuriko Backes also said that the defense ministry had recently delivered 6,000 155mm shells to Ukraine.
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