Istanbul: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday made a surprise visit to Istanbul, discussing energy cooperation with Turkey and its ally Qatar as well as the fate of Ukrainians jailed by Russia.
Poroshenko, whose trip was not announced in advance by either side, held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two presidencies said.
The meeting comes as Turkey cooperates increasingly closely with Ukraine’s foe Russia, which in 2014 annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and which Kiev accuses of backing pro-Moscow separatists who seized control of part of the country’s east.
The Ukrainian presidency said Poroshenko discussed the implementation of joint energy projects including “trilateral cooperation between Ukraine, Turkey and Qatar.”
Qatar is Turkey’s key Gulf ally and Ukraine wants to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar on ships via the Bosphorus in Istanbul as it tries to make up for energy shortfalls amid the standoff with Russia.
Poroshenko visited Qatar in March, saying afterwards Doha was ready to provide Ukraine with LNG.
However transiting LNG through the Bosphorus would require special permission from Turkey, which so far has resisted allowing such potentially hazardous cargoes to pass through the congested waterway.
The statement also said Turkey backed deploying UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine and was willing to take part in the mission.
The two sides also discussed the situation in Crimea. Its annexation was strongly opposed by Turkey and Ankara has expressed alarm over the fate of the Turkic Tatar minority on the peninsula.
The “release of Ukrainian political prisoners from Russian prisons” was also discussed, it said, without giving further details.
In October 2017, two Crimean Tartars who had opposed the annexation were released from jail after Erdogan pressed for their release. Poroshenko at the time thanked the Turkish leader for his efforts.
The Turkish presidency issued a far shorter statement on the talks with Poroshenko, saying the leaders spoke “while standing up” at the airport before Erdogan flew to Ankara.
Cavusoglu said in a tweet the two sides discussed “bilateral relations and regional issues” with Poroshenko on his “one day visit to Istanbul”.