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22 May, 2023 16:32

Turkish government rebukes ‘Russian interference’ claims

Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu cannot produce evidence to back up his accusations, the country’s foreign minister has said
Turkish government rebukes ‘Russian interference’ claims

Turkish presidential contender Kemal Kilicdaroglu cannot prove his claims of Russian meddling in the country’s recent elections, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted on Monday, accusing Kilicdaroglu of threatening Ankara’s relations with Moscow.

“Mr. Kilicdaroglu has been threatening Russia. It is wrong to undermine our ties with a country like that,” Cavusoglu told the Haberturk news channel. Cavusoglu said that his government asked Kilicdaroglu for proof of Russian interference, to which the opposition challenger replied “it was my impression.”

Cavusoglu called on Kilicdaroglu to “be more serious” and refrain from making such groundless accusations.

Kilicdaroglu is set to face off against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the ballot box on Sunday, after neither candidate secured 50% of the vote in the first round of elections earlier this month.

In the runup to the first round, Kilicdaroglu claimed that Russian operatives were behind “montages, conspiracies, deep fakes and tapes” circulating in the country, and warned his “Russian friends” to get their “hands off Türkiye.” Kilicdaroglu was apparently referring to footage publicized by Erdogan linking him to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization in Türkiye.

Kilicdaroglu dismissed the video as a fake.

The Turkish president condemned his opponent for the allegations of Russian interference, and the Kremlin categorically denied any involvement in producing the video. “We firmly reject such statements,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “If somebody provided Mr. Kilicdaroglu with such information, they are liars.”

Erdogan, who is seeking a third term in office, has strengthened his own powers at home and promoted what he calls a “balanced” foreign policy – deepening trade and diplomatic links with Russia and China while positioning himself as a potential peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine.

While Kilicdaroglu has not threatened to join with the rest of Türkiye’s NATO allies in sanctioning Russia, he has promised to mend the country’s strained relations with the US-led military bloc, and to restart EU accession talks, all while eliminating some of the presidential powers put in place by Erdogan.

Erdogan won 49.5% of the vote in the first round, while Kilicdaroglu took 44.9% and third candidate Sinan Ogan won just over 5%. Erdogan’s campaign received a boost on Monday when Ogan endorsed the incumbent leader, handing him a potential 2.8 million votes.