Who do Moscow and Washington prefer to see at the helm of Türkiye?
    Shereshevskiy's analysis

    ANALYTICS  28 March 2023 - 15:25

    Moscow clearly favours incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Washington would probably like the six-party opposition to win.

    In the short term, Moscow, according to many analysts, benefits from Erdogan because it can negotiate with him. He allows capital to flow into Türkiye, turning it into a bridge between the Russian and world economies, and helps arrange deals on Syria and Ukraine. President Erdogan, on the other hand, needs financial injections (to pay back loans and stabilize the Turkish currency). He is also interested in modernizing infrastructure (Russia is building the Akkuyu NPP at a cost of up to $25 billion at a time when nuclear energy has become a very promising industry). Cheap Russian energy is essential to Türkiye's growing industry (it grew by 5.6 per cent last year, and that growth comes in large part from its export-oriented industry and military).

    For the same reasons that Erdogan is getting closer to Russia on some issues, he is strengthening cooperation with his recent rivals in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia and the UAE - he needs their investment amid Western capital outflow from Türkiye.

    Furthermore, Erdogan is using cooperation with Russia as a tool to help him influence Washington ("you don't want us to further strengthen and expand ties with Russia, so you have to make advances on different issues").

    From the perspective of Ukraine and the US, they are pleased with Erdogan's resolute stance in the Black Sea region - from supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons to closing the way for Russian warships in the Black Sea. The fact is that this is where Türkiye's interests stand in opposition to Russia's. For Türkiye, as one of the leading (in the recent past) American diplomats, Middle East specialist James Jeffrey, pointed out, Moscow's strengthening of its position in the critically important Black Sea region is unacceptable. It is therefore providing serious support for Ukraine.

    Again, it seeks to use cooperation with the US and Ukraine to put pressure on Russia ("you don't want our tanks to be supplied to the AFU, in which case you should cede to us on some issues").

    In the long run, however, Erdogan is a definite problem for the Kremlin. It is this ambitious politician who is turning Türkiye into a military and scientific-industrial superpower. He strengthens not only his alliance with Azerbaijan, expanding Turkish influence in the South Caucasus, but also the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), which includes countries with a population of 160 million and a GDP of $1.5 trillion, increasing Türkiye's influence in Central Asia. The Black Sea region, the South Caucasus and Central Asia are three regions where Russian influence has dominated in the recent past. Türkiye is creating or may create in the future, politico-military and economic blocs there. And they will inevitably be directed against Russia, not because Türkiye has something against it personally, but because two bears cannot get along in the same den. In the long run, the stronger the Turkish State, the more problems the Russian State will have. Add to that the big project of Turkish political and cultural hegemony. Türkiye is developing a network of universities with affordable low-cost education, where people from all the Central Asian republics, as well as many other countries, study. They are the future engineers, scientists, administrators, political technologists, journalists, historians, entrepreneurs and politicians of the region.

    It is not at all certain that the Turkish coalition led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu will be able to fully pursue this course. Most likely, if it wins the election, it will be immersed in Türkiye's internal reforms and its own squabbles to the point where it will find it difficult to continue Erdogan's earlier assertive, determined, tough and purposeful policies.

    But, on the other hand, it is important to remember two things. First, this group, should it come to power, will become more aligned with Washington and Brussels than Erdogan. The opposition is predominantly secular, unlike Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). It includes politicians oriented towards an economic alliance with the West. The six-party coalition will need foreign investment and closer cooperation with the European Union and the United States, their markets and technology, as this is the key to a dynamic Turkish economy. For Türkiye, the EU countries are its main market; without Western technology, Türkiye's expanding military-industrial complex, which depends heavily on imports, cannot survive.

    Moreover, the six-party coalition will not feel secure because the media, the courts and the power structures consist of Erdogan supporters. This means a difficult process of reform, purges and instability. In this situation, Türkiye's new leaders will try to rely on the United States and Europe to present certain trump cards to business, the military and society - the lifting of sanctions, positive dynamics in relations, the supply of advanced Western weapons, investments, lower inflation, etc. The West, of course, will demand a weakening of ties with Moscow in return.

    At the same time, the US welcomes Türkiye's plans in the Black Sea and Central Asia because they reduce Russia's influence there. Washington may be influenced by the Armenian lobby and this affects its plans in the South Caucasus, but even here Türkiye and allied Azerbaijan will have a chance. And of course, the US will encourage these very areas of Turkish policy.

    Secondly, Erdogan's active foreign policy is not only linked to his personal subjective characteristics and ideology. It is also related to the strengthening of Türkiye's economic, scientific, technical and military power against the background of the weakening international influence of the United States. Türkiye has become stronger, while the US has become somewhat weaker. That is why Türkiye began to fill the vacuum in the Middle East and elsewhere. Ankara will continue to do so to the best of its ability, simply because it can.

    Navigating between Russia and the US is among the tools of big Turkish politics - it is a way of enhancing its international influence and the six-party coalition is unlikely to avoid it for the foreseeable future. Both for the political and economic reasons discussed above. Another thing is that subjective factors and internal contradictions can affect this advance by Türkiye, slowing it down or, on the contrary, speeding it up.

    Thus, the six-party coalition is likely to distance itself more from Russia than Erdogan, should he come to power. But it is hard to say how far-reaching the change will be since there are different forces at work here. The changes may not be radical.

    Furthermore, it is likely that the foreign policy of the six-party coalition will become more cautious, at least for a few years, as the new government will focus more on domestic issues and reforms.


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