His military occupation of northern Syria, to keep down the Kurds, also troubles allies. While Turkish troops have protected some Syrian dissident enclaves, Mr. Erdogan has simultaneously engaged in a rapprochement with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. That rapprochement is expected to continue now that Mr. Assad has been welcomed back into the Arab League. Mr. Erdogan wants his help to restrain the Kurds and take back some of the four million Syrian refugees that Turkey has been hosting in the name of Islamic solidarity.
Mr. Erdogan may disappoint those who hope for a more emollient, more Western-leaning Turkey, however, and Turkey is not the only ally becoming more authoritarian. Hungary and Serbia are doing the same, and Poland, though fiercely anti-Russia, is, like Turkey, undermining the rule of law, judicial independence and press freedom.
Mr. Erdogan’s re-election “will open a larger debate about how we engage with allies and strategic partners with whom we have declining affinity, and Turkey won’t be the only one,” Mr. Lesser said. Europe will have to find new ways of appealing to the more democratic opposition in these countries and engaging better with society.
That drift away from democratic values and the rule of law will mean little progress in long-frozen talks on accession to the European Union. For Brussels, said Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs, it is a kind of relief — a win by the democratic opposition would have meant that Brussels would have had to take Turkey’s accession negotiations more seriously, including a revision of the agreements on customs and visas.
“The European Union will be able to talk the talk of values, slamming Turkey’s authoritarianism — over which it has no influence — while cynically walking the walk of a purely transactional relationship with an unabashedly transactional leader,” she wrote for Politico, expanding her thoughts in an interview.
While regarding Mr. Erdogan as an autocrat, she said, Europe “was rather successful in negotiating nasty deals with him on migration,” paying Turkey to house refugees and asylum seekers and prevent them from coming to Europe.