Turkey's Erdogan tells Putin won't accept moves by Russia on Ukraine sovereignty

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) spoke to Russian leader Vladimir Putin (right) in a phone call. PHOTOS: REUTERS

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Wednesday (Feb 23) that Turkey would not recognise any move against Ukraine's sovereignty, and warned against a military conflict.

Mr Erdogan told Mr Putin that Turkey would "not recognise any step against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity", his office said, adding that this was Ankara's "principled approach".

President Putin has defied an avalanche of international sanctions and put his forces on standby to occupy and defend two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine.

Russia recognised the regions as independent this week, a serious escalation of tensions in the ongoing crisis.

Nato member Turkey, which has friendly ties to Russia and Ukraine, has sought to position itself as a mediator.

During the phone call with Mr Putin, Mr Erdogan said "a military conflict would not bring benefit to anyone", and that Ankara prioritised diplomacy and dialogue, the presidency said.

"Turkey is ready to do its part to reduce tensions and maintain peace," he told Mr Putin.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin told Mr Erdogan about the "necessity" of his decision to recognise east Ukraine's rebel Donetsk and Lugansk republics - a move that opens the door to the presence of the Russian army there.

Mr Putin said the decision was taken "in the conditions of the aggression of Ukrainian authorities in Donbas and their categorical refusal" to abide to a peace agreement, the Kremlin said.

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Mr Erdogan cut short a trip to Africa amid the flurry of diplomacy over the crisis and returned to Turkey late on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on the plane home, he said Turkey did not want to choose between Russia and Ukraine, in comments published in Turkish media on Wednesday.

"It is not possible for us to give up on both," he said.

"We have political and military relations with Russia. We also have political, military and economic ties with Ukraine," he added.

"We want this issue to be resolved without us having to choose between the two."

Mr Erdogan has proposed a trilateral summit in Turkey with Mr Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Turkish leader told Mr Zelensky in a phone call on Tuesday that "Putin's recognition of so-called republics" was unacceptable.

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