Officially, Western governments won’t talk about their preferences in Turkey’s elections, to avoid being accused of interfering in another nation’s domestic politics. But it is an open secret that European leaders, not to speak of the Biden administration, would be delighted if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to lose.
As Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said before the first round of voting two weeks ago: “We all want an easier Turkey.”
A strategically important member of NATO, Turkey under Mr. Erdogan has become an increasingly troublesome partner for the European Union, which has largely abandoned the idea of Turkish membership.
Russia, too, has much riding on the election’s outcome. Under Mr. Erdogan, Turkey has become Russia’s indispensable trading partner and at times a diplomatic intermediary, a relationship that has assumed an even greater importance for the Kremlin since the invasion of Ukraine.
Throughout his 20 years in power, Mr. Erdogan has pursued a nonaligned foreign policy that has frequently frustrated his putative Western allies and provided a welcome diplomatic opening for Moscow — perhaps never more so than after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
By refusing to enforce Western sanctions on Moscow, Mr. Erdogan has helped undermine efforts to isolate the Kremlin and starve it of funds to underwrite the war. At the same time, the stumbling Turkish economy has feasted recently on heavily discounted Russian oil, helping Mr. Erdogan in his quest for a third, five-year term as president.
Mr. Erdogan has further irritated his allies by blocking Sweden’s bid for membership in NATO, insisting that Stockholm first turn over scores of Kurdish refugees in the country, especially from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist organization.
More broadly, for the European Union and Washington, there is a strong feeling that Turkey under Mr. Erdogan has moved further away from European values and norms like the rule of law and freedom of the press.