There is absolutely no way to predict what will happen in Turkey. I think that Erdogan will do everything in his power to win the election, including using Greece and Cyprus to turn public sentiment against them. If, however, Erdogan ends up winning, it is likely that we’ll see him backing down from his aggressive posturing.
It’s hard to predict what will happen if the opposition wins. The alliance is made up of parties with disparate ideological backgrounds, which will have to agree on a candidate. I suspect that this will not happen, and this would be in Erdogan’s favor. If [social democratic CHP head] Kilicdaroglu wins, he may adopt a more moderate stance on the Aegean only if he wants to stand apart from his predecessor, because it is a hot-button issue for a large section of Turks, regardless of who they vote for. The present-day opposition would perhaps take a less aggressive stance towards the European Union and the West, but Kilicdaroglu is a nationalist. Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas is another candidate that would make sense to take on Erdogan, as he is both remarkably popular and a nationalist, which could again be a problem for Greece and Cyprus.
The most dangerous period for Greece is the period leading up to the elections, which Turkey is absolutely adamant on winning as he wants to be president for the 100th anniversary of Turkey’s democracy in 2023. He will use any means at his disposal and Greece is an issue that arises naturally in his planning. But the Aegean is very close to Turkey and the fighter jets of the two countries fly in very close proximity, so we cannot rule out an accident or a misunderstanding or a mistake.
The United States, meanwhile, has not acted as it should, as a regional referee. It has proved silent and ineffective. I don’t think the Turks want to go to war with Greece deliberately, especially given the terrible state of the economy. But anything can happen. Erdogan’s rhetoric concerning the Lausanne Treaty, the islands and the notion that Turkey is being treated unfairly may, after all, take him down a road where action is the only course he has for his political interest – action that he may never have really wanted to take.
As for the Turkish economy, it is in dire straits indeed, because of Erdogan’s poor management. We have seen money being channeled into the Turkish central bank and I suspect that Russia is behind it, especially given the Putin-Erdogan deal for helping Russia circumvent sanctions. It has become increasingly clear that Putin is investing in Erdogan and wants him to win this election. Don’t forget that Russia has a lot of money right now because of the explosion of energy prices. I suspect that the foreign exchange flowing into Turkey comes from money made by Russian energy sales to the West.
Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations, Middle East and North Africa specialist.
* This opinion piece is part of an in-depth look by 10 analysts, journalists and experts into Turkey ahead of the June 2023 elections: Where will Turkey be a year from now?