The West is gearing up for the next five years of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the Turkish leader enters the presidential runoff as the clear favorite.
U.S. and European officials see the president as both troublesome and unpredictable, as well as an indispensable partner as head of state in the NATO member nations bordering the Middle East and the Black Sea and home to four million refugees. Be prepared for the difficult road ahead. .
Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman said another term for the veteran leader would continue the strained relationship between the West and Ankara. “We will have very unreliable allies whose policies will be driven by political necessity and the whims of one man,” he said.
Erdogan, who is notorious for his harsh rhetoric, has described himself as a powerful leader who will pave the way for the nation, freed from the shackles of the hypocritical and unreliable West.
He’s spent most of the past decade stumbling from one diplomatic crisis to the next.
In the last five years alone, Erdogan has threatened to expel 10 Western ambassadors as his country falls under US sanctions for imprisoning an American pastor and buying Russian air defense systems, flocking to the Greek border after the incident. sent tens of thousands of refugees. He promised to “open the gates” to Europe. On Saturday, the day before the first round of voting, he accused his rival Kemal Kultidalor of collaborating with US President Joe Biden to overthrow him, without providing evidence.
Heading into Sunday, polls suggested that Mr Kulcidalor was in the lead, allowing both foreign and Turkish diplomats to imagine how things would change if the opposition took power. was
Even though the new government is unlikely to make any substantial or dramatic shifts in foreign policy and may present challenges of its own, one senior Turkish official said years of public squabbling have left the government in a state of turmoil. He argued that it would create a “much more positive vibe” later on.
“I have great fondness for Curchidalol.” [among western officials],” he said.
The chances of change have dwindled dramatically since the Turkish president won the first round by almost five percentage points, giving him a clear edge heading into the run-off on May 28.
The first big test for the second-round winner concerns Sweden’s NATO membership, which Turkey has blocked from joining after accusing the Nordic countries of being soft on so-called Kurdish terrorists.
NATO officials are desperate for Sweden’s membership in the military alliance to be approved at a summit in Lithuania in July.
But I worry that the good performance of NATO-skeptic Turkish ultranationalists in Sunday’s parliamentary vote will make it more likely that Erdogan will prolong the process. Some people He may press the United States to make concessions on Ankara’s plans to modernize its F-16 fighter jets, possibly pending on parliament.
Diplomats say the biggest problem is that decisions such as Sweden’s admission to NATO depend almost entirely on the whims of President Erdogan, who has consolidated power and centralized decision-making to unprecedented levels. claim.
“As long as he sees the benefits of postponing outweigh the costs, he will,” a senior European official said.
No one expects a complete severance of Turkey’s ties with Europe and the United States. Western trade and finance remain vital to Turkey’s struggling economy.
The Turkish president has built a close personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin, and President Putin showed goodwill to President Erdogan before the election, such as accepting delays in payments for Russian natural gas. , aware that part of his value to Russia is his status as a member of NATO.
Western countries cannot completely break with the Turkish government either. “Turkey will be an important partner for us, no matter who is the country’s leader,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As one of the few world leaders on good terms with both Presidents Putin and Zelensky, the United States and Europe recognize that the Turkish president has an important role to play as a mediator in the Ukraine crisis.
EU countries remain uneasy about President Erdogan’s threats to send more refugees to the continent. And Turkey, with a population of 85 million, remains an important market for European companies.
Analysts and policy makers see no progress in the dying Turkey’s efforts to join the EU or strengthen its customs union with the EU if President Erdogan’s 20-year rule is extended. He predicted that relations with Brussels would remain static. The cooperation will be targeted and transactional and will focus on areas such as security and trade, they added.
Still, Ilke Teigull, professor of European geopolitics at Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III, warned that relations could sour from their already low bases if the West abandons the restraint they have shown over the past year or so. “They were holding back because they didn’t want to be part of Erdogan’s campaign,” she said. “But if he wins the second round, he has no reason to hold back.”
One of the upcoming flashpoints is Brussels’ move to punish non-EU countries that help Russia evade European sanctions. This is intended to force countries such as Turkey to do more to enforce sanctions. But Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie-Russia-Eurasian Center, said the Kremlin hoped to “continue the current relationship” with Erdogan, saying that it would “help evade sanctions.” It was helpful,” he said.
Alper Koshkun, a former Turkish diplomat now based in Washington, said the long-term consequences of deepening tensions with the West at a time when the Turkish public already harbors a deep mistrust of both the United States and Europe. said he was concerned.
“European integration is progressing, but Turkey is not mentioned,” Koshkun said. “Five years from now, the feeling of alienation will only get worse.”
“It will affect the worldview of Turkish society and the extent to which countries such as Russia and China can cultivate that worldview,” he added. [anti-western] Turkish spirit. ”
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