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Erdogan Pledges Support For Ukraine's Territorial Integrity During Kyiv Visit

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Kyiv on October 9.

KYIV -- During a visit to Kyiv, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that his country will continue to support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"We neither did, nor will recognize" the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia, Erdogan said on October 9 at a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko.

Erdogan also said that Ankara will continue to follow the situation of Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatars, and thanked Ukraine for defending their rights.

Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegal by dozens of countries, and backs separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Rights groups and Western governments have also denounced what they called a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars and other citizens who opposed Moscow's takeover.

"Today we agreed to continue to fight for the protection of the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea in the framework of all international mechanisms," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

The Ukrainian president told the press conference that his three-hour talks with Erdogan gave "grounds for optimism about the development of bilateral cooperation in all spheres."

Erdogan said that the two sides agreed on the goal of raising the volume of bilateral trade from $3.8 billion to $10 billion a year "as quickly as possible."

The two presidents were scheduled to chair a session of the Turkey-Ukraine High-Level Strategic Council in Kyiv on October 9.

Erdogan's press service has said that the Turkish president will also meet with the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, and Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman.

A number of bilateral documents will be signed during Erdogan's one-day official visit, including on protecting investments and avoiding double taxation, according to Poroshenko’s press secretary, Svyatoslav Tseholko.

Talking to Poroshenko last month at the UN General Assembly in New York, Erdogan reiterated that Ankara supported Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Turkish president has also sought to maintain warm ties with Russia and cooperates with Moscow on establishing "de-escalation zones" in Syria. Moscow and Ankara support different sides in Syria's civil war.

Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Crimea Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, told RFE/RL on October 9 that one of the reasons why Ankara had not joined the European Union in imposing sanctions against Russia over its aggression against Ukraine is that European leaders have been dragging their feet over Turkey's bid to join the bloc.

"Turkey is against Russia's activities [in Crimea].... However, to my mind, the issue is linked to the fact that for decades Turkey has been trying to join the European Union as a full-fledged member. But the EU has always found reasons to reject the bid. And now Turkey is reacting to that," Chubarov said.

With reporting by AP and Interfax