Russia should not be allowed to keep the territory it has gained since February, the Turkish president has said
A settlement in the Ukrainian conflict would require Russia to return all "invaded" lands to Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday in an interview with the PBS news outlet.
Asked if Moscow could be permitted to keep territory gained since the conflict began in February, Erdogan said: "No, and undoubtedly no."
"If a peace is going to be established in Ukraine, of course, the returning of the land that was invaded will become really important. This is what is expected. This is what is wanted," he said.
"The lands which were invaded will be returned to Ukraine," the Turkish leader added.
Erdogan said that "no invasion can be justified," but acknowledged that at the same time, "prior to the breaking out of this conflict, many things had happened." A solution therefore won't be found in "person to the one side entirely and defending the other," he said.
Questioned about Crimea, which reunified with Russia following a 2014 referendum, Erdogan stressed that he had been asking his "dear friend [Vladimir] Putin" to return Crimea to its "rightful owners" but acknowledged this had "unfortunately" not happened.
Erdogan has maintained a largely neutral position on the Ukrainian conflict and emphasized to PBS that the United Nations should conduct investigations into alleged war crimes and play the role of arbitrator between the sides.
"We are not going to defend a single leader. But, instead, we have to be looking for a conclusion that will satisfy all parties involved," Erdogan stressed.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, recognized by the Kremlin as independent republics, announced that they would hold referendums on joining Russia from September 23 to 27. The Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions, which are partly controlled by Moscow, said they would also hold votes at the same time.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has previously vowed to win back all the areas which are now under what he calls "Russian occupation," including the Donbass republics and Crimea. Commenting last week on his country's recent counteroffensive, Zelensky claimed that the military forces "are gradually, step by step, pushing the occupiers out."