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Istanbul CNN  — 

Turkey has a “special” and growing relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite mounting pressure on Ankara to help bolster Western sanctions against Moscow, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an exclusive interview ahead of next week’s presidential election runoff.

“We are not at a point where we would impose sanctions on Russia like the West have done. We are not bound by the West’s sanctions,” Erdogan told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “We are a strong state and we have a positive relationship with Russia.”

“Russia and Turkey need each other in every field possible,” he added.

Erdogan is the apparent frontrunner in the Turkish presidential race which heads to a runoff vote on May 28. He and his principal rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, have diverged on a number of foreign policy issues, including diplomacy with the West and Russia.

Kilicdaroglu has vowed to repair years of strained diplomacy with the West.

He has also said he would not seek to emulate Erdogan’s personality-driven relationship with Putin, and instead recalibrate Ankara’s relationship to Moscow to be “state-driven.”

But in the days leading up to the first round of the presidential race on May 14, Kilicdaroglu sharpened his tone on the Kremlin, accusing it of meddling in Turkey’s election and threatening to rupture the relationship between the two countries.

“Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, deep fake content and tapes that were exposed in this country yesterday,” he said on Twitter.

“If you want the continuation of our friendship after May 15, get your hands off the Turkish state,” Kilicdaroglu said.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the center-left, pro-secular Republican People's Party (CHP) speaks at the party's headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, on Sunday, May 14, 2023.

By contrast, Erdogan has doubled down on his relationship with Putin – and he thinks the West should follow suit. “The West is not leading a very balanced approach,” he told CNN. “You need a balanced approach towards a country such as Russia, which would have been a much more fortunate approach.”

He has accused his rival of seeking to “detach” Turkey from Russia.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Turkish strongman has emerged as a key powerbroker, adopting a crucial balancing act between the two sides, widely known as “pro-Ukrainian neutrality.”

He helped broker a key agreement known as the Black Sea Grain Corridor Initiative that unlocked millions of tons of wheat caught up in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, averting a global hunger crisis. The agreement was extended for another two months on Wednesday, one day before it was set to expire.