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Turkey’s next leader may be pro-West but not anti-Russia


Although Erdoğan and Putin enjoy a close personal bond, Turkey’s aim is to benefit from Russia’s international isolation regardless of who is in power.

The recent virtual ceremony to inaugurate Turkey’s first nuclear power plant saw Vladimir Putin describe it as a ‘flagship project’ in strengthening Russian-Turkish relations – a sentiment echoed by Turkish president Recep Erdoğan in referring to the plant as the ‘biggest joint investment’ with Russia.

This $20 billion project is being constructed – and owned for its first 25 years – by Russian energy company Rosatom, with Turkish company Akkuyu as the local operator. The size is impressive – Putin claimed it is the ‘largest nuclear construction project in the world’ – but the timing of its unveiling is also noteworthy.

The ceremony took place in the run-up to Turkey’s pivotal presidential and parliamentary election, and it is no secret that Russia would prefer Erdoğan to win. Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has called upon Russia to refrain from interfering in the election – through disinformation campaigns and fake videos – if it wants to maintain a friendship post-election.

No Turkish leader has formed as close relationship with Russia as Erdoğan, although almost all Turkish leaders have explored areas of cooperation and functional relationships with Moscow – even during the heyday of the Cold War, Ankara cooperated with Moscow on heavy industry.

But all previous cooperations stopped short of going into strategic, defence industry, and geopolitical realms – and this is why Erdoğan is different.

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