To avoid a three-ring circus, these mafia-like leaders must show ...

World

To avoid a three-ring circus, these mafia-like leaders must show strength

Friends one day, enemies the next. Can Putin, Erdogan and Prince Mohammed keep their conflicts in the fridge?

Gideon Rachman

Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prince Mohammed bin Salman have a lot in common. The Russian, Turkish and Saudi leaders are all nationalists with regional ambitions. They are autocrats who have centralised power and have been ruthless with domestic political opposition. And they are all risk-takers, who are happy to use military force.

These strongmen are also believers in the diplomacy of personal relations. Like mafia dons, they can be best friends one day and bitter enemies the next. That matters because their often conflicting interests are fomenting conflict across a swathe of territory, from the Middle East to North Africa and the Caucasus. If their rivalries get out of hand, civilians will suffer.

The relationship between Putin and Erdogan is particularly peculiar. The presidents of Russia and Turkey have backed conflicting sides in three regional conflicts — Syria, Libya and now Nagorno-Karabakh. At times, they have clashed directly — the Turks shot down a Russian plane over Syria in 2015. Turkish troops were killed in bombing raids in Syria earlier this year by Moscow-backed Syrian forces...

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