I previously noted with considerable alarm the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to be establishing some new alliances of convenience following the recent, failed coup, and that one of those was with Russia. Erdogan’s first “official” meeting with Vladimir Putin came at an odd time, only weeks after the two nations appeared to be on the brink of war – or at least an international incident – when the Turks shot down one of Vlad’s planes in the ongoing Syrian struggle. But now, with a new philosophy of cracking down on his own people in effect and condemnation rising from western allies, Erdogan needs new friends and he seems to have found one in the Russian strongman.
At the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum analyzes the budding bromance unfolding before our eyes and sees similar cause for worry.
Dictators who fear their enemies also look for allies. But they don’t want allies who will criticize what they are doing, either out loud or by example. And so, in the wake of the failed coup and the successful crackdown, Erdogan naturally sought out the company of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. In St. Petersburg this week, the settings at a luncheon for the two men included porcelain plates decorated with their portraits.
At least until now, Putin’s model of suppression has differed from Erdogan’s strategy. Instead of mass arrests, he has used targeted violence. To intimidate journalists, he ensures that one is occasionally murdered; to scare oligarchs, he locked up one of them for a decade. He controls the economy through a system of cronyism and kickbacks on a breathtaking scale.
But like Erdogan, Putin needs company. Both men share a paranoid fear of the enemies they can’t see.
Ah, they had porcelain plates made with both of their likenesses on them. Isn’t that adorable? One assumes that the representation “levels the playing field” and portrays them eye to eye. That would require a bit of photoshopping at the outset because Erdogan is a literal giant who towers over Vlad.
Sadly, this isn’t a joking matter. Applebaum makes some excellent points about the rapid evolution of Erdogan as a dictatorial strongman and how the differences between he and Putin could be quickly washed away. Thus far we’re not being allowed to see any of the blood and gore which is almost certainly underpinning the purge of the Turkish president’s “enemies” in his own country. They’re simply disappearing by the thousands. The visible effects are the suppression of religion and the free press and the public displays of forced enthusiasm from his subjects. But if unhappy Turks are too vocal in their opposition to this new way of life and the press isn’t complacent enough, Erdogan will almost certainly be taking pages from Vlad’s playbook. The occasional murdered journalist paired with a few “community leaders” who wind up in dank, dark cells for years on end can be very effective in quelling disgruntled voices.
Turkey may be a lost cause at this point, at least for the immediate future. It’s one of the worst spots to collapse into tyranny in terms of the best interests of the west and counter-terrorism efforts, but our options appear to be quite limited. If the Turkish people don’t want to fall under the spell of a tyrant, they’ll need to remove him themselves. And as the recent failed coup showed us, that won’t be an easy feat at all.