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With Turkey’s economy in crisis, Erdoğan picks fights abroad – POLITICO


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ISTANBUL — Restaurants have invested in wipe-clean menus to allow them to replace their costs day by day. Taxi drivers are asking passengers to prime up their fares to fulfill rising gas prices. A cappuccino that value 20 lira earlier this 12 months is now 30 lira. 

“It’s ridiculous,” mentioned Osman, who runs a neighborhood espresso store and is making an attempt to maintain up with Turkey’s runaway inflation — formally at a 20-year excessive of 70 p.c and, in keeping with the impartial Inflation Research Group, greater than double that. 

Yet as anxiousness programs by means of the nation and elections loom in 2023, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rhetoric has solely turn into more and more uncompromising, rejecting calls to vary financial coverage in the face of voters’ monetary fears. 

Instead, Erdoğan is trying abroad to assist remedy his nation’s issues, partly out of financial necessity, and partly out of political expediency.

In Ukraine, Ankara has emerged as a serious army provider to Kyiv, whereas additionally positioning itself as a diplomatic energy dealer and refusing to undertake Western sanctions towards Moscow. A serious motive: Turkey has a big monetary stake in each international locations it desires to protect.

And on the NATO summit in Madrid this week, Erdoğan made certain he was entrance and heart, threatening to dam Sweden and Finland from becoming a member of the alliance before backing down after they dedicated to serving to Turkey thwart Kurdish teams — giving him a center-stage picture op.

Elsewhere, Erdoğan has riled up nationalist sentiment — a vote-winning technique. By portray Greece as an exterior menace to Turkey’s territory, and Kurdish separatism as an inner one, he has created a way that the nation is going through assaults that solely he can shield it towards.

This sample of strikes displays Erdoğan’s rising leverage internationally. For geographic and geopolitical causes, Western allies want Turkey’s cooperation. Its presence in the Middle East and alongside the Black Sea makes it an indispensable associate, even whether it is an unreliable one.

“For the West, Russia is the crisis, Putin is the big threat, and all of a sudden that makes Erdoğan more important, more acceptable, and his excesses more tolerable,” mentioned Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a lecturer in politics and worldwide relations at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “That gives him a freer hand at home, and gives him a sense of indispensability on the world stage, and he uses it to the maximum.”

Electoral politics

Erdoğan is going through financial strife again residence at an necessary second. 

Before the top of subsequent June, he must ask voters to re-elect him for a 3rd time period, whereas his social gathering, the populist AKP, may also be preventing to extend its share of seats in parliament after being disadvantaged of an absolute majority in 2015.

Until now, polls have shown Erdoğan struggling to draw extra votes than his rivals, who’re anticipated to unite behind one candidate. Meanwhile, AKP maintains solely a slim lead over the principle opposition social gathering, the social-democratic CHP.

A parliamentary group assembly on the Turkish Grand National Assembly | Adem Altan/AFP through Getty Images

“Despite the fact the government controls much of the media and the judiciary, this is still an election where they can’t take victory for granted,” Akkoyunlu mentioned. 

And a teetering economy is threatening to make Erdoğan’s place extra precarious.

Just alongside the Bosporus straits, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the Black Sea right into a warfare zone, threatening meals imports and crashing the worldwide power markets. Sluggish restoration from the COVID-19 pandemic and a serious price range deficit has added to the issue, sending inflation and the price of dwelling skyrocketing.

Instead of launching a attraction offensive, nevertheless, Erdoğan has stood by his long-standing financial coverage. While elevating rates of interest is essentially the most orthodox method to coping with inflation, the Turkish chief has flatly refused, arguing curiosity is opposite to Islamic ideas.

“Unfortunately, in some parts of our country, a state of dissatisfaction and pessimism has taken its toll,” the president said final month. “First of all, we should be grateful for what we have.”

Global issues 

While Turkey’s chief is being accused of inaction at residence, he’s taking a an increasing number of assertive stance abroad, from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Turkey’s superior Bayraktar TB-2 assault drones have been credited with serving to Ukraine destroy huge columns of Russian {hardware} and earned plaudits from Western allies.  

Yet Ankara has saved a foot in each camps. 

Turkey has hosted talks between the warring international locations over ending Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which has left a lot of the world’s grain languishing in warehouses. It has even provided to dealer broader peace talks. But it has additionally saved open financial pathways for Russia, even on the expense of angering Ukraine, which accused Ankara of shopping for up grain Moscow stole from Ukraine. 

“On the one hand, Turkey acts as a mediator and supports Ukraine in important ways,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy complained final month. “But on the other hand, we see them at the same time opening up routes for Russian tourists.”  

Turkey has pursued a equally advanced technique in different regional conflicts. The nation not too long ago doubled down on its assist for Libya’s embattled authorities — pitting itself towards Russia, which has backed an insurgency making an attempt to displace the federal government. And it’s supporting a detailed ally, Azerbaijan, in an ongoing battle with Armenia, a Russian associate, over the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Some people will always argue that Turkey is being more active abroad to distract from issues at home,” mentioned Matthias Finger, an economist at Istanbul Technical University. “But in fact, its foreign policy priorities relate to genuine issues for the country’s development — things like food, industry and energy.”

With Russia and Ukraine, the financial pursuits are evident — each international locations are prime buying and selling companions for Turkey. Grain and vegetable oil come from Ukraine. Oil and gasoline come from Russia. Tourists come from each. Analysts estimate a fall in guests from Russia and Ukraine might in the end value Turkey $3-4 billion in misplaced revenues.

Turkey “is one of the most affected by the shock in Europe,” mentioned Alper Üçok, a consultant of Turkey’s TÜSİAD business group.

Playing politics

Some of Turkey’s different overseas conflicts seem to have extra to do with politics than economics. 

Erdoğan has warned a brand new army operation towards Kurdish forces in northern Syria might start at any second. 

The offensive would play a twin position. 

Ankara has lengthy focused pro-Kurdish independence teams on each side of the border. It accuses the YPG militia, which controls a lot of Syrian Kurdistan, of getting shut hyperlinks to bombings inside Turkey. An offensive towards its forces can be each in style at residence and crush the thought of a breakaway Kurdish state.

It would additionally assist pave the way for Ankara to construct nearly 1 / 4 of 1,000,000 houses in the area for Syrian Arabs who’ve been displaced by the preventing. With financial pressures squeezing Turkish residents, anti-immigrant sentiment is rising to the purpose the place migrant rights staff have warned of a possible “pogrom” towards refugees. 

Leader of not too long ago fashioned Turkish nationalist Victory Party Ümit Özdağ | Adem Altan/AFP through Getty Images

Ahead of the presidential election, one in every of Erdoğan’s fiercest critics has threatened to outflank him on the precise. The Victory Party’s Ümit Özdağ, who has campaigned on a platform of sending Syrians again, now has extra followers on Twitter than the president. And whereas his single-issue platform might not in the end ship a landslide on the poll field, it’s shifting the dialog amongst voters.

Likewise, the long-standing dispute between Turkey and Greece over the Aegean Sea hit a fever pitch this month, with Erdoğan appearing to threaten army motion and accusing Athens of deploying arms to islands in the disputed waters.

Akkoyunlu, the SOAS lecturer, argues the row is a part of an effort to shore up the president’s assist. 

“Every election since 2014 has taken place in an environment of existential crisis — a narrative that says ‘dominate or die,’ and that has become more and more intense each time people go out to vote,” he mentioned. 

“Looking at the economic situation and the short-term outlook of the war in Ukraine, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The policies they’re pursuing mean inflation will continue to rise, life is going to get more expensive and more desperate for the average Turkish citizen,” he predicted. 

“It is likelier than ever that the electorate will want to punish Erdoğan,” he added, “and some of the crises we’re seeing now to pressure the electorate are likely being artificially intensified.”

For the time being although, voters must determine if Erdoğan’s insurance policies are the reply to an more and more unsure world, or the reason for it.

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