Turkey’s power transition may not end relations with Putin

In the middle of the election campaign and three weeks before the start of voting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in a virtual ceremony, bringing the two neighbors even closer. Black Sea.

Last month, the first delivery of nuclear fuel was made to the Akuyu plant in Mersin province. First in the world It will be built, owned and operated by a company – Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear power company.

Along with that, Turkey has increased its energy dependence on Moscow at a time when its NATO allies are reducing those ties to lose leverage against Russia. Moscow’s presence in Turkey has long been strengthened, precisely as Erdogan prepares to contest an election that could oust him from power, according to some polls.

The strained relationship between Erdogan and Putin has sent shockwaves through the West, with some eyeing the upcoming election in anticipation of Erdogan’s exit.

The Turkish strongman knows this. When US Ambassador to Ankara Jeff Flake met his main election rival Kemal Klisateroglu in March, Erdogan lashed out at him. These elections”.

Polls suggest a close race between Erdogan and Kilicadaroglu, with the May 14 election likely to go to a runoff if neither candidate receives a majority of the vote.

But even if Erdogan is defeated in the election, a turnaround in Turkey’s foreign policy is unlikely, analysts say. While figures close to the opposition believe a victory would see Turkey turn towards the West, others say fundamental foreign policy issues will remain unchanged.

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Over the past two decades, Erdogan’s Turkey has transformed itself from a secular, Western-oriented nation to a more conservative, religious one. A member of NATO, and with the second-largest military in the alliance, it has strengthened its ties with Russia and, in 2019, even bought weapons from it in defiance of the United States. Erdogan has raised suspicions in the West by maintaining close ties with Russia in Ukraine, and has been a headache for NATO’s expansion plans by blocking Finland and Sweden from joining.

However, Turkey was also helpful to its Western allies during Erdogan’s regime. Last year, Ankara facilitated a historic grain export deal between Ukraine and Russia and provided Ukraine with drones that have played a key role in countering Russian attacks.

“I think we will see radical changes if the opposition wins, and many of our European colleagues and diplomats in Ankara are asking how far Turkey will re-engage with its Western allies,” Onur said. Iski, an assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, noted that if the opposition wins, the first thing it will do is mend barriers with the West.

Türkiye turns westwards

But even if relations with the West are restored, the deep interconnectedness between the Turkish and Russian economies, particularly in energy, will limit Turkey’s return to the sector.

According to Iski, much of Erdoğan’s foreign policy was directed Economic considerations. And it seems that this will continue in the next administration as well.

Turkey is an important trading partner for Russia, as well as a hub for thousands of Russians who fled after the Russian invasion of Ukraine to invest money in real estate and other sectors.

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Trade between the two countries is growing, and last month, Putin said Russia was keen to deepen its economic ties with Ankara, noting that bilateral trade would exceed 57 billion euros by 2022, according to Russian state news agency TASS. This fact places Russia among Turkey’s largest trading partners.

However, the European Union, as a collective, is Turkey’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching around 200 billion euros, according to the European Commission. Meanwhile, trade with the US will be around 31 billion euros in 2022, according to the US Census Bureau.

With Russia’s geographic proximity to Turkey and its economic interests in Ankara, a leader other than Erdogan would continue to maintain cordial relations with Moscow while anchoring Turkey in its Western democratic alliance, political science professor Murat Sommer said. Kok University in Istanbul told CNN.

“In terms of the country’s perspectives, it will be towards the democratic West,” Sommer said, stressing that this would not mean a complete end to differences with the West.

After several delays, Turkey finally allowed Finland to join NATO this year, but blocked Sweden from joining, accusing the country of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organizations.” by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Questions regarding Sweden’s membership can be resolved with or without Erdogan.

“Regardless of who wins the election, Ankara is more likely to recognize Sweden’s membership in 2023 after Sweden’s new anti-terror law comes into force,” International Crisis Group Turkey director Nikar Koksel told CNN. .

Opposition It is interesting to point out “Constructive measures to address Turkey’s security concerns” are necessary for Sweden’s annexation to be approved.

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But while ties with the EU could improve if the opposition wins, experts say the road with the US will be long and difficult.

“When we talk about Turkey’s relationship with the West, sometimes we take the two ends of the Atlantic as if they were one,” Iski said. “Turkey’s relationship with the US has reached an impasse and is deteriorating for a long time.”

Whether Erdogan or the opposition wins, Iski believes Turkey will try to “untie its relationship with the US and the EU”, given Ankara’s dependence on its European trading partners.

*Elizabeth Wells contributed to this article

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