As the international media and Kyiv Post have reported, on Thursday Aug. 18, the presidents of Ukraine and Turkey, together with the United Nations Secretary General, held meetings in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. This event drew major international attention and sent several important signals. But…

As the chief editor of the Kyiv Post, I attended the press conference held by the three leaders and was able to meet in the corridors with the various delegations.

On such occasions, reporters tend to focus on the main takeaways in order to provide headlines. But they often overlook important details conveying a more authentic sense of the atmosphere and nuances of the occasion.

And, as we know, appearances can be deceptive.

So let me take you behind the scenes and share with you some personal impressions which will hopefully shed a clearer light on what went on and where things stand.


First – a brief note about the background and the setting. For President Volodymyr Zelensky it was a major diplomatic success to secure a joint meeting with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary General António Guterres, and all the more so, on Ukrainian territory.

At this intense moment in Russia’s war against Ukraine, bringing Erdoğan and Guterres to Ukraine sent a powerful signal both of international support for Ukraine, and at the same time delivered a massive blow to Russia’s insatiable war monger, President Vladimir Putin.

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Top of the agenda were the issues of further unblocking the export of Ukrainian grain to the outside world, thereby loosening Russia’s economic stranglehold; and the precarious situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station due to Russian shelling, which is being utilized as a potentially apocalyptic form of blackmail.

The meeting in Lviv, which was to be followed up on the following day by a similar one in Odesa, entailed different priorities for the three parties. Apart from the above-mentioned immediate concerns, Ukraine and Turkey had broader goals.


Three sets of goals

Ukraine’s chief underlying aim, as was evident from the typically forthright statements made by Zelensky, is to bring an end to the war by forcing Russia to leave Ukrainian territory, bringing it to account for the crimes and destruction it has wrought, and to secure a security arrangement that will protect Ukraine against Russian imperial ambitions in the future.

Turkey, on the hand, although a member of NATO, is engaged in a delicate balancing act between Russia and Ukraine and the West. While supporting Ukraine in a variety of important ways, it remains guided by its own national interests. Hence Erdoğan’s assumption of the role of a would-be mediator between Putin and the West, and his emphasis – reiterated at the press conference – on ending the war at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield.

Turkey is also very interested in the potential longer-term benefits Ukraine offers in the areas of trade and economic investment. It was therefore not surprising that Erdoğan’s delegation contained a large number of officials dealing with economics and trade, as well as businesspeople.

I spoke to several of the Turkish officials in the corridors as we awaited the signing of a Ukrainian-Turkish agreement before the press conference, the subject of which was kept under wraps until the very last minute.


From what I managed to glean, the Turkish side wants the war to end as soon as possible and is not so concerned about the terms on which this happens. What is important for Turkey is that the Black Sea is not turned into a Russian sea, that Turkey continues to be recognized as a key regional player, and that business opportunities with both Ukraine and Russia are sustained.

As for the UN team, its representatives responded informally to my questions in the smug way we are accustomed to hearing from these highly-paid complacent functionaries.

Look how active Guterres is on the grain issue, they stressed. And he’s openly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a breach of the UN Charter. That’s all well and good, I countered. But the UN is hardly pulling its weight apart from perhaps in the humanitarian sphere. Has it abandoned its initial purpose to prevent wars and be a peacemaker?

Elephant in the room

The task of Guterres and his team in Lviv of course was to skirt the main issue – i.e., why the UN is not invoking its core mandate and addressing the main challenge: stopping Russia’s war against Ukraine and denouncing the killing every day of Ukrainians by a member of the Security Council.


Instead, they were out to reclaim the relevance of the UN and its top official, and reap disproportionate kudos, by harping on about recent agreements on releasing Ukrainian grain from ports blocked by the Russian invaders.

This, of course, is a problem with global implications. But it has one basic cause – Russian military aggression, pillaging and contempt for the UN and the international order. So why avoid saying that in favor of diplomatic niceties? But then Guterres is no Dag Hammarskjold, a previous UN Secretary General prepared to sacrifice even his life in the name of peace.

It was painful for me to watch Zelensky’s face as the bronzed, round-faced, Guterres spent two thirds of his implicitly self-serving statement at the press conference talking about the role the UN is playing, together with Turkey, in releasing the grain from blockaded Ukrainian ports and averting a humanitarian global catastrophe.

Important, certainly. But dodging the essential. Not a word about the very real humanitarian catastrophe that has been ongoing in Ukraine since 2014; the latest horrendous missile attack that very day on Kharkiv and elsewhere; and the destruction by the Russians of the Ukrainian people and their cities, homes, economy and cultural shrines.

Even when speaking about the grave situation in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and calling for the demilitarization of the area and placing it under civilian control, Guterres made no mention of this being Ukrainian territory in central Ukraine occupied by Russian invaders. His proposed recipe in effect amounted to recognizing the status quo by freezing the situation and not questioning what the Russians are doing there in the first place.


Guterres also announced that UN missions would be dispatched to the Zaporizhzhian atomic station and a fact-finding one to Olenivka where Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed while held by the Russian invaders. An implicit act of moral equalization – only if there is agreement from “both sides.” No direct finger pointing.

Once again, at this moment, Zelensky’s face told it all – a brave, principled and determined Ukrainian leader, forced publicly to put up with this insulting diplomatic gobbledygook from the head of the world’s totally ineffective “war-preventing” institution. How difficult and lonely it must have been up there for him.

Erdoğan – tall, distinguished and softly spoken, but carrying a big stick – once again spoke of his belief in a negotiated end to Russia’s war against Ukraine, but did not venture into suggesting what shape it could take. However, his welcome presence in Ukraine at this point more than compensated for this vagueness.


Unanswered questions

Had I had a chance to ask a question, I would have politely set the cat among the pigeons.

I would have asked Guterres why he is not using his “good offices” prerogatives to circumvent the vetoes in the Security Council; and why he is not calling for a fundamental reform of the UN, as Zelensky and others have done, to restore some of its credibility as an international body whose main purpose is described as follows:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

Turning to Erdoğan, as the president of a NATO-member country, my questions would have been: does he support Ukraine’s eventual acceptance into NATO? Secondly, is it true that currently billions of US dollars and euros from Russian sources are being transferred to Turkey via Turkish banks and many of European Union/U.S. trading companies continue their commerce with Russia via Turkey and vice versa?

Now, a few last word about what actully happened at the press confrence. The entire translation and interpretation system at the press conference was a disaster. It failed to work. A huge embarrassment for the Ukrainian hosts and time lost and meaning blurred.  A major lesson learned,  but not the only mishap.

The Ukrainian interpreter was also terrible – certainly not of the standard expected at such a high level. He made a number of incredible gaffs: Zelensky called for the Russian-de-occupation of Ukraine as a prerequisite for talks – he translated it as the Russian “liberation” of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian side needs to get its act togther in these sphere.  There can be no excuses.

So, much was lost in translation. But this does not justify the distortion or ignoring of Ukraine’s message, position and reasonable espectations by those supposedly listening and receptive.

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