Alpha Dog Putin Shows Meeker Side With Erdogan
Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are used to getting their own way. Neither tolerates dissent. Yet one of them had to give way when Russian and Turkish interests clashed over Syria this week.
Unusually, right now it appears to be Putin.
The Kremlin offered barely any criticism when Erdogan unleashed his military to kill dozens of Russian-backed Syrian troops as revenge for an attack in Syria’s Idlib province where seven Turkish soldiers died.
Putin continued to bite his tongue when the Turkish president told Russia not to get involved and issued an ultimatum for Syrian forces to retreat from areas close to Turkey's border.
It’s hardly the alpha-dog behavior the world expects of Putin, but he may be playing a longer game in his marriage of convenience with Erdogan. Russia is working hard to woo Erdogan with arms sales and energy deals to drive a wedge between Turkey and that country's key NATO ally, the U.S.
Putin also is coordinating with Erdogan in the conflicts in Syria and Libya — even as they back opposing sides — in an attempt to make Russia the essential power broker in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean as U.S. influence in the region declines.
“Russia cannot operate in the Middle East if it’s in conflict with Turkey,” former Kremlin adviser Gleb Pavlovsky said. While Erdogan “strongly irritates” Putin, the Russian president needs him.
Trump unbound | Donald Trump’s acquittal by the Senate delivered an expected yet exhilarating victory to the White House, freeing a president who has for years operated under the threat of impeachment. Yesterday’s vote comes at good time for Trump — just as campaign season enters its full fury — even though the outcome was tarnished when Mitt Romney became the first senator ever to vote to remove a president from his own party.
Bogged down | Panic buying continues in Hong Kong amid fears of neighboring China’s deadly coronavirus — now with a run on toilet paper. Rolls were unavailable in supermarkets in parts of the city, as social media posts showed empty shelves and long lines of shoppers. Residents are facing all sorts of shortages as Hong Kong tries to isolate itself from the outbreak.
- With no sign the virus will be under control any time soon, surgical masks — the three-ply, pleated rectangles that typically sell for a few cents each — have become a political flashpoint across Asia.
Dark past | Uncomfortable days for the German establishment after a local chapter of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union lined up for the first time with the far-right Alternative for Germany to elect a state premier in the former communist east. Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs report on how the party one CDU official referred to as modern-day “Nazis” achieved their breakthrough, shredding the authority of Merkel’s heir, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Merkel today called the party’s decision “unforgivable” and said it should be reversed.
Drip, drip | Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders were in a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses early today as the state’s Democratic Party continued to struggle with releasing long-delayed results. The former Indiana mayor had 26.2% of state delegate equivalents versus the Vermont senator’s 26.1%, with all but 3% of precincts reporting. But Buttigieg’s feat will be tough to replicate in other states. Here’s why.
Heating up | Violence between Palestinians and Israelis is intensifying following the Trump administration’s release of a Middle East peace plan that dashes cherished Palestinian dreams. Three Palestinians have died in confrontations with Israeli troops, while a car rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers, wounding 12. Rockets and explosives-laden balloons are flying into Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, provoking Israeli airstrikes.
What to Watch
- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has appointed new ministers for resources and agriculture after squabbles within his junior coalition partner triggered two resignations.
- Trump is scheduled to meet Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Washington today to ink a trade deal.
- The U.K. will pursue an “early trade deal” with Australia as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to deliver on his promise of a post-Brexit economic boost.
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And finally ... A former rebel chief and prime minister, Guillaume Soro seems like a natural challenger in October’s presidential elections in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer. At 47, Soro is the youngest major politician in a country dominated by men well into their seventies, and his social-media savvy — 963,000 followers on Twitter — and penchant for bling resonate with a new generation of voters. But, as Pauline Bax explains, there’s a fairly large catch: He’s wanted on charges of plotting a coup.
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