On the Eve of Elections, Erdoğan Invites Putin. What Awaits Turkey? — opinion
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin (Photo:Press service of the President of Turkey)
There is a month before the elections in Turkey.
We have a statement from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said he stands for unblocking Russian grain and fertilizer exports. He made this statement during a meeting with his Russian counterpart — Sergey Lavrov. Earlier, we had a statement by the President of Turkey, Recep Erdoğan, who said that Putin may visit Turkey at the end of April.
With such statements, they continue the trend in support of relations between Turkey and Russia and emphasize that Turkey will not join any sanctions. This includes ignoring decisions made by the International Criminal Court. It is beneficial for Erdoğan to make a show of his dominance and role as an important figure right before the elections.
There are many narratives in the Russian mass media and propaganda channels, as well as in the Turkish press, that Russia is betting on Erdoğan and sees all other candidates for the presidency of Turkey as out of line with Russia's interests. Meanwhile, Erdoğan is looking for support wherever he can, even from someone as odious as Putin.
It’s impossible to calculate how all this will turn out and how the Turkish public will react. It is relatively favorable for now. But that can always turn, and Erdoğan will be stuck with connections to Putin that act more like an anchor.
Let me explain the ambiguous attitude that Turks have toward Putin. There is also Russian propaganda in Turkey. It is pretty active, and its narratives are picked up by agents of influence, especially by marginal political forces which advocate a close alliance with Russia. An example is the Vatan (Motherland in Turkish) party. They actively use Russian propaganda talking points. The topic of child abduction (which Putin is accused of) is not discussed in Turkey at all. So it barely exists in the Turkish public consciousness. After the ICC decided to declare Putin a suspect in this crime, a lot of information appeared in the Turkish media, apparently from Russia or through Russian channels, which justified Putin. The narrative is well-known, similar to those spread in Europe and through their useful idiots, saying that these children are actually Russian, and that the Russian Federation is fighting to save them from death, and so on.
Erdoğan is looking for support wherever he can, even from someone as odious as Putin.
We remember the terrible earthquake that happened in Turkey Thousands of people died. After this earthquake, some experts said that oppositely, we could see Turkey's closeness with the European Union and the United States. That Erdoğan understood how much he depended on their help. And here he invites Putin to increase his electoral points. All politicians operate under time constraints. If we talk about the medium-term prospects, it is clear that Turkey depends mainly on Europe and the USA. And the issue of restoration of these territories, cooperation, economic development, and many other things is somehow based on European investments, on European financial technologies. This is obvious to everyone. But because time is short and everyone operates with limited resources, this thesis only partially worked. And so Russia praises Erdoğan and kisses him everywhere. They please him, and this satisfies his ego.
Turkey's election is a month away, and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the opposition presidential candidate, was 10% ahead of Erdoğan at the beginning of the last week. As polls show, the gap is small - only a few percent. Plus, there are a lot of people out there who are undecided. So we can say that they are both neck and neck, and the situation is very dramatic. At the same time, a dirty and powerful information war is being waged against Kylichdaroglu. The press there, dependent on the ruling party, constantly prints all kinds of photos. For example, he wears boots while standing on a prayer rug - meaning he despises Islam. This is an important moment for Erdoğan's followers to play on Islamic sentiments.
What does Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu offer to Turkey? Here we can say that the internal agenda is much more important than the external agenda. His internal agenda envisages the abolition of the strong presidency and the return to a parliamentary form of government. It was a highly complex story of agreements between the Turkish opposition that they would appoint six vice presidents, one from each political force. It’s challenging to say what will happen because Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is not the most popular opposition figure. There were, of course, other much more exciting candidates. But the opposition has made such a decision for now. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is not Erdoğan’s opponent for the first time, and he has lost in previous cases. As for foreign policy, I think no changes are foreseeable, at least at this stage. Turks generally don’t like to talk about it.
Of course, they want to please their core electorate, which is pro-European, and emphasize that relations with Europe and the United States will improve. However, there are no special mentions of Ukraine. This will all be considered from the point of view of Turkey's interests. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu does not criticize Russia very much. He says that cooperation with Russia will continue. But it is clear that Ukraine will focus on the choice of the Turkish people and is ready to cooperate with any president they choose.
What will happen to Erdoğan if he loses?
This is a question that probably has no answer in Turkish society.
There is a lot at stake because, following the Turkish practice, many will begin to demand investigations of his actions during his long term in office. He has been either President or Prime Minister since 2003, and a lot has happened. This includes the repressions since the failed military coup of 2016. Therefore, for Erdoğan, losing power means becoming vulnerable. Many people are concerned that he won’t give up his power even if he loses the election. There is such a danger, and I think this situation worries a lot of experts and ordinary Turks.
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