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Putin to step foot on NATO territory for first time since Ukraine war

Vladimir Putin is planning a rare overseas trip to Turkey next month, the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has revealed.

Mr Erdogan made the announcement during a press conference following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Istanbul.

The Turkish president did not reveal further details of the timing of the visit in August, but said a potential prisoner swap agreement between Russia and Ukraine would be among the issues discussed.

“I hope we will get a result from this soon,” Mr Erdogan told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning.

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“If we make some phone calls before [the face-to-face meeting], we will discuss it on the call as well,” he added.

Putin and Mr Erdogan previously held talks in Kazakhstan in October last year.

Mr Zelenskyy said he would wait for the outcome of any prisoner exchange deal before commenting, but added: “We are working on the return of our captives, political prisoners, Crimean Tatars.

“Our partners have all the lists. We are really working on this.”

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The Russian president has not stepped foot in any NATO countries since launching his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

During the period he has also only made a handful of international trips, including brief visits to Iran last July and close ally Belarus in December.

Image:
Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Mr Erdogan following their joint press conference in Istanbul

Putin has grown increasingly isolated amid ongoing Western sanctions, while the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant for his arrest over war crimes allegations that Russia has unlawfully deported Ukrainian children during the war.

But despite the tensions, and Turkey’s membership of NATO, Mr Erdogan has strived to maintain relations with both Ukraine and Russia during the conflict.

Turkey has not joined in with Western economic sanctions, but has supplied arms to Ukraine and rejected Russian attempts to annex its territory.

The ICC does not have its own police force and experts have played down the prospects of Putin being arrested anytime soon, saying he could not be taken into custody on foreign soil without the cooperation of a state’s government.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, center, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo prior to their talks at the Saadabad palace, in Tehran, Iran, on July 19, 2022. Erdogan, who is seeking a third term in office as president in elections in May, marks 20 years in office on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin via AP, File)
Image:
Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, and Mr Erdogan during talks in Tehran last July

Mr Erdogan has been keen to cast himself as a mediator in the war, including helping to broker a deal last year to allow the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports via the Black Sea.

The current version of the agreement is due to expire on 17 July, but the Turkish leader said work was ongoing to extend it.

During the press conference, Mr Erdogan also backed Ukraine’s bid to join NATO once the war was over, and said he would continue efforts to try to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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Putin makes surprise public appearance

Putin’s visit to Turkey has not been confirmed by the Kremlin.

But spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to reporters before Saturday’s press conference in Istanbul, said: “As for forthcoming contacts between Putin and Erdogan, we do not rule them out in the foreseeable future.”

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