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Erdoğan to Putin: Return Crimea to ‘rightful owners’

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Russian President Vladimir Putin must return all land that Russia has occupied, including Crimea.

The Black Sea peninsula should be returned to its “rightful owners,” Erdoğan told PBS NewsHour on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in comments likely to provoke ire in Moscow.

Asked whether Russia should be allowed to keep Crimea in a negotiated end to the war, Erdoğan said, “These are our descendants at the same time, the people who are living there. If you were to take this step forward, if you could leave us, you would also be relieving the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine as well. That’s what we have always been saying.”

Erdoğan said he had been telling Putin this since 2014. “But since then, unfortunately, no step has been taken forward,” he added.

The remarks make him the latest world leader with continuing ties to Russia to deal Putin a rhetorical blow in recent days. India’s Narendra Modi raised concerns last week about the Russian president’s ongoing war on Ukraine, and Putin himself admitted China’s Xi Jinping expressed “concerns” as well.

Erdoğan told PBS that when he met Putin in Uzbekistan last week, the Russian president gave him the impression he was “willing to end this as soon as possible.” Erdoğan also said that 200 hostages will be exchanged between Ukraine and Russia.

In the interview, Erdoğan continued to present Turkey, which is a member of NATO, as a neutral party in the Russia-Ukraine war, saying that a conclusion to hostilities would not be reached by “taking sides.” However he also said that Russia’s “invasion cannot be justified.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed last week that his country would liberate Crimea from the Russian occupiers. Putin sent forces into Crimea in early 2014, illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula and then sparking a years-long conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

Since the war began in February, Ankara has hosted talks with officials from Moscow and Kyiv at the highest level and mediated a grain deal alongside the U.N. to ensure safe food exports out of blockaded Ukrainian ports, though some Western diplomats suspect Turkey of playing a double game.

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