Sunday, December 7, 2014

The two angry men on Europe’s borders

(The Guardian) Two angry men. They govern large countries that border Europe. They rail against the west, which is at great pains to find the right way to deal with them. It seems that hardly a week goes by without Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Vladimir Putin lashing out at the United States or Europe. In a recent diatribe in front of Istanbul university students, Erdogan warned against modern-day “Lawrences of Arabia” trying to undermine Turkish power.

Last week, Putin hit out at the US during a meeting of the Valdai Club in Sochi, his annual PR forum. The Russian leader compared his country to a bear who will “not ask permission” to act and “will not let anyone have its taiga [land]”. Putin denounced American “unilateral diktats” and “legal nihilism”, painting over his own unilateralism and illegality over the annexation of Crimea.

Regional crises in Syria and Ukraine have triggered this new bout of estrangement. Erdogan resents having been put under pressure by the US over his refusal to intervene directly in Syria against Islamic State (Isis). Putin has framed the Ukrainian conflict as the consequence of Euro-Atlantic manoeuvres into Russia’s neighbourhood. He casts his policy as the defence of ethnic Russians abroad.

The Turkish and Russian presidents together govern nearly 220 million citizens. Their countries have registered strong growth since the beginning of the century. They want to throw their weight around and this has, it seems, caught many people off guard. Western diplomacy has been scrambling for answers.