How Putin Walked Into an Election Sex Tape Scandal

Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters

ISTANBUL – The Turkish opposition has accused Russia of trying to influence Sunday’s elections to stay in power President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in office as multiple polls suggest he is on the verge of falling out of power.

Although Erdogan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin have been sounding the alarm for a long time, a sextape scandal seems to be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Muharrem İnce, a presidential candidate who led the main opposition party in 2018, dropped out of the running this week after rumors spread online about an alleged sex tape. The contestant claimed the tape was fake and said he suffered false character assassination.

Shortly thereafter, the Turkish opposition’s presidential candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accused Russia of spreading deepfakes and conspiracies including “tapes revealed in this country yesterday”.

“Hands off the Turkish state,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

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Kilicdaroglu told Reuters he had concrete evidence to support his statement, but the Kremlin had denied his allegation.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, an MP from the second-biggest party in Kilicdaroglu’s coalition said Moscow “supports” Erdogan in his bid, although he does not know the alleged evidence behind the statement to remain in power.

“Certainly the Russians will intervene differently in the elections,” said Ahmet Erozan, who heads the Good Party’s foreign policy.

Just three days before the election, Reuters reported that Russia is postponing a $600 million natural gas bill until next year. Erozan, a former ambassador, said the payment delay was a way for Moscow to support Erdogan’s election campaign, adding that there had been an “unusual spike” in trade between the two countries.

The country’s declining economy is believed to be the main reason for Erdogan’s possible defeat, as massive inflation means citizens are being inundated with soaring shock prices for everything from onions to their gas bills.

Erozan said Turkey-Russia relations had become “too personal” – they depended on relations between the two leaders, rather than one run by state institutions – and Moscow may need to readjust its approach towards Ankara.

“The Russians put all their eggs in Erdogan’s basket, all their eggs. Now, after the election results, they will face reality,” he said. “Turkey will not be Erdogan’s Türkiye.”

Erzoan believed that billions of dollars of unknown origin came from Russia.

Peas in a pot

A person with close contact with the Turkish government said the Russian president wanted Erdogan to win because Putin would face less criticism on the world stage if he had a president with a similar leadership style and political leanings, such as a lack of respect for the freedom of the press.

“He [Putin] want more people like him so he doesn’t stand out,” they told The Daily Beast. “When they’re all villains, they don’t stand out anymore… They’re alike and they survive together.”

The person compared the situation to when Trump was president and explained that Turkey pays less attention to rights and freedoms in the country because criticism is focused on Trump.

“When Trump was in office, it was good for us,” they added.

Hisyar Ozsoy, pro-Kurdish HDP MP and deputy leader specializing in foreign policy, said Erdogan was clearly Putin’s choice for a leader in Turkey. He cited the deferral of gas payments as one of the key measures Russia has taken to help the Turkish president, thereby limiting the increase in the population’s electricity bills, and also sending money to Turkey for the nuclear power plant.

“President Putin wants Erdogan as his partner in Turkey, which is why, among other things, he eased the pressure on Erdogan ahead of the election,” he told The Daily Beast.

Putin praised the Turkish president three weeks before the elections during a ceremony for Turkey’s first Russian-funded nuclear power plant.

Putin said the ceremony and power plant showed how much Erdogan is doing for the country, the economy and “for all Turkish citizens,” according to Russia’s state news agency TASS reported.

Putin’s appearance on camera came as Erdogan canceled in-person events due to an apparent illness, giving the Turkish president a boost at a time when his image as a strongman was tarnished.

“I think Putin supports Erdogan and would clearly prefer Erdogan,” Gulru Gezer, former senior adviser to the Turkish embassy in Moscow from 2017 to 2020, told The Daily Beast.

She said that Russia has been wary of speculation about interference in other countries’ elections.

“I know the Russians are very careful with it,” Gezer said.

Gezer said the similar personality traits of Putin and Erdogan – including an air of strength and charisma – helped them bond, pointing to their nearly monthly phone calls as an example of an unusually close relationship between leaders.

While stressing that the two countries must maintain ties regardless of who wins the election, she said the simple fact that the Russian president has decades of experience dealing with Erdogan would make working with him easier.

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“If he doesn’t respect the person he’s sitting with, he doesn’t have a closer bond,” Gezer said. “In addition, he maintains a respectful relationship with Erdogan because he knows that Erdogan keeps a promise when he promises it.”

Gezer said Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane, which Ankara said violated its airspace, shows the Kremlin that the Turkish government will stand firm.

In addition, the easing of Russia’s financial demands on Turkey has given Erdogan a major boost.

The dwindling Turkish lira broke a record fall against the dollar this year and official inflation stood at 44 percent in April. However, independent economists have noted that the number is much higher, and in some cases double, the government’s quoted rate.

As Turkey depends on foreign imports for its energy, this devalued currency has caused energy prices to rise significantly – and much of the bills are paid to Russia, which has supplied about 40 percent of Turkey’s natural gas imports.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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