The Financial Times: The Battle of Putin, Erdogan, and Bin Salman in the Middle East

The Financial Times has published an article by Gideon Rushman with the title “Three Powerful Men in a Battle for the Middle East”.

Rachman believes that there are many common denominators between Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “all of them are patriots and have regional ambitions”.

They are also “despots who wield central power,” he says, “and they are fierce in dealing with domestic political opposition. 

All of them are risk-takers who take pleasure in the use of military force.

These three powerful, as the author points out, also believe in “interpersonal diplomacy”.

They could be close friends today and bitter enemies tomorrow.

This is important because their often conflicting interests spark conflict across the region from the Middle East to North Africa and the Caucasus.

If their opponents get out of hand, civilians will suffer as a result.

The writer emphasizes that the relationship between Putin and Erdogan is especially strange. 

They supported the warring parties in three regional conflicts – Syria, Libya and now Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Nevertheless, the two leaders maintain a wary friendship.

The writer attributes the reason that the two presidents instinctively understand each other, both of whom are anti-American, and seek to expand their influence in the power vacuum caused by the reduction of the US role in the Middle East. 

But the writer believes that the two leaders are not the only ones competing for influence in the region.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the crown prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia – is the third major player and is more closely related to Washington.

The writer believes that the three are “ready to use violence at home and abroad”.

Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and intervened in Syria in 2015 and authorized a series of black intelligence operations, including an assassination attempt on his political opponent, Alexei Navalny. 

Bin Salman launched a war in Yemen and besieged Qatar, and took responsibility for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, despite his denial of his personal involvement. 

Erdogan has sent Turkish forces to Syria and Libya and risks another military conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean with Greece, while providing military support to Azerbaijan, in its conflict with Armenia.

Internally, his opponents, including politicians, journalists and civil rights activists, are in prison.

The writer notes that the Saudi-Russian relationship is characterized by a kind of complexity, as Putin helped Prince Mohammed, after the killing of Khashoggi, at the highest level at the G20 summit in 2018.

But the two leaders strongly differed over oil prices this year.

On the whole, the three leaders are able to manage their conflicts, according to the article, as all of them also enjoy a delicate balance between foreign intervention and internal stability, although small wars abroad can ultimately be seen as a waste of resources, especially if they start to run in Wrong direction.