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Erdogan Arrives in Kyiv and Reiterates Support for Ukraine’s Sovereignty

KYIV, Ukraine — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed on Thursday to expand supplies of one of the Ukrainian army’s most sophisticated weapons, a long-range, Turkish-made armed drone whose use in combat for the first time in Ukraine last fall infuriated Russian officials.

But in a visit to Kyiv that was mostly a show of support for Ukraine, Mr. Erdogan also offered to play a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine in the conflict as he walks a fine line between backing Ukraine and disrupting a complicated relationship with Russia.

“We are ready to fulfill our part to end the crisis between two friendly countries that Turkey neighbors across the Black Sea,” Mr. Erdogan said.

So far, neither government has taken him up on the idea.

Turkey is a member of NATO but also maintains economic and military industry ties with Russia. At the same time, the two countries are on opposing sides in two Middle Eastern wars, in Syria and Libya, and in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the South Caucasus region.

Mr. Erdogan’s decision to arm Ukraine and back it diplomatically is emerging as another complicating factor in this mix of cooperation and conflict with Russia. Mr. Erdogan said Thursday he wanted to “lower the tensions instead of adding fuel to the flames” of the conflict.

Turkey has sold Ukraine Bayraktar TB2 drones that the Ukrainian military used for the first time in combat in the war with Russian-backed separatists last October, destroying a separatist howitzer from miles away. The missile strike suggested a tipping of the military balance in the eastern Ukraine war using a NATO-provided weapon, angering Russia.

Ukraine’s minister of defense, Aleksei Reznikov, said Thursday that Turkey had agreed to localize production of the drone at a factory outside of Kyiv. The Ukrainian version of the Bayraktar will fly with a domestically made engine. Turkey will also buy some drones of this model for its own armed forces, Mr. Reznikov said.

The site would also become a training center for Ukrainian drone pilots, Mr. Reznikov said. Though the countries had earlier agreed to localize production, an accord formalizing the deal will be signed Thursday, Mr. Reznikov said.

Mr. Zelensky praised the drone deal, which was a clear snub to Russia, which for years has objected to Ukraine obtaining the Turkish drone technology and which last fall issued urgent demands that NATO countries cease arming Ukraine.

“Today an agreement was reached to significantly expand production of lethal drones of the Baykar company in Ukraine,” he said, referring to the Turkish drone manufacturer that makes the Bayraktar TB2. “This is new technology, new job and strengthening the defensive capabilities of Ukraine.”

Mr. Erdogan has military deals with both Ukraine and Russia, including the controversial purchase of a Russian air defense system, despite Turkey’s membership in NATO. The purchase of that system, called the S-400, put Russian technology inside the territory of a key Western ally, deeply angering American officials.

Turkey and Ukraine are also signing a free-trade deal intended to increase trade turnover between the countries to $10 billion from about $7 billion now. The countries also signed agreements to deepen cooperation between their police forces and an agreement on closer coordination between ministries of defense.

Safak Timur and Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.

Circassia News

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