Kremlin Denies Meddling Ahead of Turkey’s Knife-Edge Elections

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(Bloomberg) -- Russia denied meddling in NATO-member Turkey’s upcoming elections, a response to allegations by the main opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of Sunday’s vote.

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Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the presidential hopeful of Turkey’s main opposition alliance, had accused an unidentified Russian group of interfering in the election, set to be the country’s tightest race in decades and a major threat to Erdogan’s two-decade rule.

“Russian friends, you are behind conspiracies, Deep Fake content and tapes,” Kilicdaroglu said Thursday in a message in Russian and Turkish languages on Twitter. “If you wish for our friendship to continue after May 15, take your hands off” the Turkish state.

Russia is not in any way interfering in Turkish elections, and those who spread such information are liars, state-owned news agency Tass reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

While Kilicdaroglu’s office didn’t provide evidence to back up his claims, officials say his team is convinced Russian hackers were behind the tampering of a campaign video which purportedly showed a senior commander of the separatist Kurdish PKK militant group giving support to Kilicdaroglu’s campaign.

The video was repeatedly used by Erdogan in his own campaign to link Kilicdaroglu to the PKK, which has been battling for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Kilicdaroglu’s remarks — which follow allegations of Russian involvement in elections in countries from the US to Montenegro — came just hours after another presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, withdrew from the elections after denying the authenticity of an alleged sex tape and claims that he took bribes to split the opposition vote.

“We have very serious intelligence about interference of Russian hackers in the elections to produce fake recordings and manipulation through social-media accounts,” Erdogan Toprak, a senior adviser for Kilicdaroglu, told Bloomberg on Friday. “We hope that the relationship between states will not be transformed into a party-state relationship.”

Close Ties

Under the leadership of Erdogan, Turkey developed close ties with the Kremlin. Russia is building the nation’s first nuclear power plant and has supplied the Turkish military with S-400 missile-defense systems, a move vehemently opposed by the US and NATO.

The Turkish government said it wasn’t aware of such an incident. “The Turkish state had no such information and that there was no such fear expressed by him,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told CNN-Turk television on Friday, referring to Kilicdaroglu.

“Putin has been actively supporting Erdogan’s reelection bid, singing his praises, giving him diplomatic wins, funneling money to Turkey, and deferring energy bills,” said Emre Peker, Europe director for Eurasia Group. “Amid longstanding opposition concerns over Russian cyber interference in Turkish elections, it’s not a surprise that Kilicdaroglu is calling out Moscow.”

Kilicdaroglu has vowed to repair Turkey’s strained ties with its US-led Western allies if elected. Last week, he said the opposition has intelligence that suggests it may be targeted on social media with fake video or voice records.

Turkish Opposition Warns on Risk of Violence If It Wins Election

“Kilicdaroglu’s intervention marks an effort by the opposition to pre-empt potential Erdogan campaigns to disparage the opposition — particularly by associating it with terrorism” to undermine the opposition and deter undecided voters from casting their ballots for the president’s main challenger, Peker said.

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