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Elections in Turkey. Interests of the West and Russia. Who do they support and why

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Sunday’s presidential election in Turkey is closely watched in Western capitals, NATO headquarters and the Kremlin. Their outcome may determine not only the future of a country that is a regional power, but also the role it will play on the global chessboard.

The race for the presidency is de facto between two main candidates – the current conservative leader of the state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has completely dominated Turkish politics over the years, and the leader of the centre-left Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is supported by most of the opposition.

If the election predictions are to be believed, Erdogan has reason to be concerned. The polls give his opponent a few percent advantage. The difference is insignificant, so anything can happen.

Western leaders and the host of the Kremlin keep their fingers crossed for their favorites, because the election result in Turkey will backfire on them as well.

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Elections in TurkeyPAP/EPA/SEDAT SUNA

What is the West counting on?

While Western leaders do not officially endorse either candidate to avoid accusations of meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs, it is an open secret that European leaders, not to mention the administration Joe Bidenwould be delighted if Erdogan lost the election, writes the New York Times.

“We all want an easier Turkey,” said former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt on Friday.

Ankara is a strategically important member of the North Atlantic Alliance – the Turkish army, numbering half a million soldiers, is the second in NATO and the ninth in the world in terms of size. However, this key member of the alliance under Erdogan has become a troublesome partner for the West. European Union rather, it has abandoned the idea of ​​Turkish membership, which has been present in the debate on the bloc’s future for years.

Erdogan added to the irritation among his Western allies when he decided to block Sweden’s bid for NATO membership. The Turkish leader set a condition for a change in his position, demanding that authorities in Stockholm hand over to Ankara dozens of Kurdish refugees who had fled Turkey to Sweden, especially members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist organization.

Erdogan in the crowd of supportersPAP/EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

NATO hopes a change in leadership in Turkey will end the impasse over approval of Sweden’s membership in the alliance, preferably before July’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, writes The New York Times

The daily notes that in the eyes of the European Union, Turkey under Erdogan has moved away from European values ​​and norms, such as the rule of law and freedom of the press. Irritation with Erdogan’s attitude – his attraction to authoritarianism, his ties to Vladimir Putin and the dispute with NATO – is also strongly visible in Washington. So much so that some members of Congress even suggested expelling Turkey from the North Atlantic Alliance – an unlikely scenario, but a good picture of the mood prevailing in American politics.

Just how tense the situation is between the Biden administration and the current government of Turkey is also shown by the diplomatic clash that occurred last month. The meeting between the US ambassador in Ankara, Jeff Flake, and the leader of the Turkish opposition, Kilicdaroglu, provoked the ire of Erdogan, who declared that he would not meet the American diplomat again. “We must teach the United States a lesson in this election,” the Turkish president said at the time.

European leaders, while quietly rooting for Erdogan’s defeat, are increasingly concerned about the potential post-election turmoil, especially if Erdogan loses by a narrow margin or the election goes to a runoff.

“These are groundbreaking elections,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said in an interview with the daily. In his opinion, the democratic future of Turkey is at stake.

What is Russia counting on?

Moscow is also closely following the elections in Turkey. Under Erdogan’s rule, the two countries strengthened their relations. Turkey has become a key trading partner for Russia, often also playing the role of a diplomatic broker in international disputes involving Russian interests. He adds that relations with Ankara have become even more important to the Kremlin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Throughout his 20 years in power, Erdogan’s foreign policy stance has often frustrated his supposed Western allies and provided Moscow with a welcome diplomatic opening. Which, he adds, is particularly beneficial for the Kremlin in the face of the ongoing crisis war in Ukraine.

Erdogan refused to impose sanctions on Moscow after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. With his attitude, he contributed to undermining the efforts of the democratic world to isolate Russia and to try to cut off the Putin regime from the sources of funding that would allow it to continue its bloody and illegal war.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan in conversation with Vladimir PutinMurat Kula/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The New York Times also notes that Turkey’s crisis-ridden economy has recently benefited greatly from overpriced Russian oil, which has benefited Erdogan’s chances of seeking a third five-year term as president in a row.

While United StatesThe European Union and, to a lesser extent, NATO may gain from a victory for the opposition, but for Putin, removing Erdogan from power will undoubtedly be a failure, estimates the “NYT”. The daily indicates that the AKP leader not only refused to join the Western sanctions against Russia and provided Moscow with a market for Russian oil and gas, but also thanks to him Turkey became a source of much-needed imports for Russia and a kind of link between Putin’s isolated state and the global world. economy.

The Kremlin also likes Erdogan’s confrontational and nationalist rhetoric, which the Putin regime uses to create divisions within NATO.

The American daily points out that Turkey has benefited from the war in Ukraine not only because of cheaper energy from Russia, but also because of Russian investments and revenues from Russian tourism, which have increased significantly since the beginning of the conflict. Moreover, Russia is building the first nuclear power plant in Turkey.

Turks elect a presidentERDEM SAHIN/PAP/EPA

Putin and Erdogan also share an “authoritarian streak and confrontational rhetoric towards the West,” notes the New York Times. However, he adds that the two leaders’ partnership “has always been based on mutual interest rather than ideological affinity” and the two countries compete for influence in the Middle East and Caucasus. Moreover, both support different factions in the armed conflicts in Syria and Libya.

Despite good relations with Putin, Erdogan not only refused to support Russia in the war with Ukraine, but also authorized the sale of Turkish military drones to Ukraine, which greatly angered Moscow, the New York daily reminds.

Erdogan’s rival, Kilicdaroglu, announced during the election campaign that he intended to maintain economic ties with Russia. However, it is not known what strategy it will adopt in the face of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

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