President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Monday that Russia should return all Ukrainian territory it has captured, and indicated that negotiations that he has been helping mediate are moving in that direction.
“The lands which were invaded will be returned to Ukraine,” Mr. Erdogan said in an interview with “PBS NewsHour.” He was careful not to criticize President Vladimir V. Putin over his conduct of the war, but drew a clear line on the return of territory.
“This is what is expected,” Mr. Erdogan said. “This is what is wanted. Putin has taken certain steps. We have taken certain steps.”
“An invasion cannot be justified,” he added.
Mr. Erdogan has positioned himself as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia and hosted preliminary peace talks in Istanbul in March, although those discussions were inconclusive. In the interview, Mr. Erdogan suggested that Moscow and Kyiv may be close to reaching an agreement to exchange 200 “hostages,” which would be one of the largest prisoner swaps in the seven-month war.
“Two hundred hostages will be exchanged upon agreement between the parties. I think a significant step will be taken forward,” he said, providing no further details.
Ukraine and Russia agreed on a prisoner swap in late June that saw 144 Ukrainians exchanged, most of them fighters from the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol.
News of the possible exchange came soon after Mr. Putin met with Mr. Erdogan last week in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to discuss the war. Mr. Erdogan said the meeting gave him the impression that “he’s willing to end this as soon as possible.”
“This is a conflict that ended up in casualties,” Mr. Erdogan said. “The people are dying, and nobody will be winning at the end of the day.”
Mr. Erdogan also expressed opposition to the annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized in 2014. He said he had repeatedly asked Moscow to “return Crimea to its rightful owners,” without result.
The relationship between the two autocrats has grown closer in recent years, defined by the fluctuating power dynamics and mutual interests. Turkey has opposed Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, but Mr. Erdogan has sought to maintain a close relationship with Mr. Putin, trying to mitigate the fallout in Turkey of the Ukraine war as he heads into an election year with his country’s economy imploding.
He has refused to apply Western economic sanctions against Russia’s industry and broader economy and mediated a deal to allow grain exports out of Ukraine. The two leaders have met several times to discuss expanding their diplomatic partnership and to negotiate economic cooperation.
Mr. Erdogan’s comments came after fighting erupted last week on the border of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave at the center of a decades-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia — with Turkey supporting Azerbaijan and Russia having intervened to save Armenia. The deadly clashes have raised the prospect of Russia’s losing influence after Moscow moved some of its troops from the south Caucasus to Ukraine.