Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban
In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.
Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in front of 16 soldiers in historic garb at the presidential palace in Ankara (Getty)
The average foreign dignitary visiting Ankara might not expect to encounter an honour guard of 16 men resembling extras from a sword and sandals epic and lining the staircase of a gargantuan presidential palace.
So when Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was confonted this week by the spectacle of the 16 soldiers in historic Turkic garb, even some Turkish officials confessed they initially thought the resulting images were the work of photoshop.
It was one of the more surreal sights to emerge from Turkey in recent times and has led to much hilarity on social media. But there was a point and purpose to the unusual costumes and their appearance may contain clues to Turkey’s direction of travel under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Abbas’s host and the country’s paramount leader. Read more
Turkey’s role in the war against Isis
Gideon Rachman is joined by David Gardner and Daniel Dombey to discuss Turkey’s role in the unfolding war against the jihadist movement Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Does Turkey share western war aims or is the government of President Erdogan more interested in crushing the Kurdish movements that are fighting Isis?
What would an Erdogan presidency mean for Turkey?
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced he will run in the country’s first every directly elected presidential contest next month. Ben Hall is joined by Istanbul correspondent Daniel Dombey and FT columnist David Gardner to discuss how is the turmoil across the border in Syria and Iraq is changing the political dynamics ahead of the election, and whether an Erdogan victory would mean breaking the grip of Turkey’s old elite, or just another step towards authoritarian rule.
Protest in Istanbul, Jan 2014 (Getty Images)
According to the Turkish proverb, if you spit down it gets in your beard and if you spit up it gets in your moustache. In other words, it’s a mess either way – and that pretty much sums up the state of EU-Turkish relations as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, prepares to visit Brussels on Tuesday for the first time since June 2009. Read more
The turmoil in Turkey
Turkey is in political turmoil. In recent weeks a corruption scandal has gripped the government, resulting in a series of arrests, the moving of hundreds of senior police officers, a challenge to the power base of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a split between Mr Erdogan and his former backers in the Gulenist movement.
In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Daniel Dombey, Turkey correspondent and Tony Barber, Europe editor, to discuss how these developments threaten the political and economic stability of this large dynamic country that is vital to the geopolitics of both Europe and Asia.
♦ In Turkey, Gulenists have burnt their bridges with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, while Mr Erdogan makes no bones about his desire to purge the bureacracy of his former allies. It is, according to one of Turkey’s old secular elite, “like Alien vs Predator“.
♦ Edward Luce points out that the Indian politicians expressing outrage over the strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade are suffering from a hypocrisy problem: “So far, no Indian leader has expressed a scintilla of concern about the rights of the Indian domestic servant whom Ms Khobragade had allegedly mistreated.”
♦ Ben Bernanke announced the taper, but minimised market discomfort.
♦ David Pilling considers which events shook Asia in 2013.
♦ James Carroll, a former priest, looks back at the first year of a radical pope.
♦ B.R. Myers, an expert on north Korea, explains exactly what happened to Kim Jong Un’s uncle and why Kim doesn’t look smart taking his wife around with him. Read more
Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
Protests in Gezi Park (Reuters)
Four months ago demonstrations about trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park grew into mass protests against the rule of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Now trees – or, put another way, the polarised politics of big development projects – have sprouted up once again on Turkey’s agenda. Here are five reasons why. Read more
Zojoji-temple in Tokyo (Getty)
The most significant International Olympic Committee meeting in a generation takes place this weekend – the committee will choose a host city for 2020 at the weekend amid reservations about all three candidates. Shortly after, it will have to decide on a successor for Jacques Rogge, president of the movement.
Thomas Bach, a German lawyer, is the favourite in the presidential race. But the decision over the 2020 host will be more difficult. Here’s what’s happened in the campaign so far and why the decision will be an uncomfortable one: Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The public mood in Egypt is hardening against Islamists since President Mohamed Morsi was deposed – a result of fatigue with the turmoil caused by Brotherhood marches, and hostile local media that refrain from covering the bloody crackdown on Islamist protest camps.
♦ On the flip side, the crackdown on Islamist camps caused the most violent wave of Islamist violence against Christians in modern history, with attacks on 30 churches and at least four Christian deaths.
♦ In the hours before Egyptian security forces launched a crackdown on camps of pro-Morsi supporters, American diplomats were pushing for agreements between the two groups to avoid violence – all of which failed, as generals in Cairo ignored Americans “in a cold-eyed calculation that they would not pay a significant cost.”
♦ An event that brought together India’s prime minister with past, present and future bosses of the central bank yielded some insight into what the future might hold for the volatile economy, including bringing incoming RBI governor Raghuram Rajan on earlier, not adding new capital controls, and narrowing the trade deficit.
♦ Being an American among Brits sometimes “feels like being a guest who shows up at a memorial service wearing a Hawaiian shirt and traumatizes the mourners with intrusive personal questions,” writes Sarah Lyall of her 18 years as the New York Times’ UK correspondent.
♦ The partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who revealed surveillance programs by the NSA using documents passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden, was detained for almost nine hours by UK authorities in Heathrow airport to be questioned under the Terrorism Act 2000.
♦ After almost 60 years, the US intelligence community has openly acknowledged that it was behind the controversial overthrow of Iran’s former prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.
♦ Turkey’s greatest writer Orhan Pamuk converses with Simon Schama about recent developments in his country, including the “wonderful” uprising in Taksim square and the twilight of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, and allows him to step into his home that has been transformed into a “Museum of Innocence.” Read more
Erdogan with Major General Hassan al-Roueini in Cairo, 2011 (Getty)
Two years ago, Egypt was the scene of one of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greatest foreign triumphs. Now it is a country that he and much of Turkey look on at with anguish, a reminder that many of Ankara’s ambitions for the Middle East have come crashing to earth.
Turkey invested heavily in the Egyptian revolution and also in the government of Mohamed Morsi. Mr Erdogan was one of the first international leaders in early 2011 to call on then President Hosni Mubarak to heed the message of the demonstrators clamouring for his exit.
When, months later, Mr Erdogan visited Cairo, thousands of supporters greeted him at the airport.
Nor did ties end there. Ankara announced the extension of a $2bn loan to Cairo. Mr Morsi was acclaimed by the congress of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP last September. Just a few days ago, the Turkish prime minister discussed his plans to visit the Gaza Strip – which he would almost certainly travel to via Egypt. That trip looks much less likely today.
In sum, the Egyptian coup may be a devastating blow to Turkey’s vision of a more democratic, more Islamist-leaning Middle East in which Ankara plays a leading role, partly by virtue of philosophical ties with governments in the region, partly because of its own experience in beating back military influence. Read more
By Aranya Jain
♦ Ewen Macaskill describes how and why Edward Snowden revealed himself to the Guardian, starting with emails in February.
♦ Geoff Dyer examines the extent of government surveillance and why we might need a ‘Church committee for the digital age’.
♦ Turkey – The struggle for Taksim continues, and the stand-off is here to stay – any new developments will likely come from within Erdogan’s own party.
♦ A plea for help from Masanjia labour camp in China was hidden in Halloween decorations and found by a woman in Oregon, leading to an exposition of the camp’s brutal system.
♦ The North Pond Hermit of Maine has committed at least 1,000 burglaries over 27 years, while living alone in the woods. Read more
♦ The NSA whistleblower has revealed himself via a video interview with the Guardian – find out more about Edward Snowden elsewhere on this blog.
♦ Edward Luce argues that President Barack Obama has hurt himself and business over the issue of privacy.
♦ In Turkey, members of every sector of society have united against Erdogan, whose intransigence could split his party.
♦ The Washington Post reports on the mourning parents of Newtown.
♦ The Obama administration has begun helping Middle Eastern allies to build up their defences against Iran’s cyberweapons, and will be doing the same in Asia. Read more
♦The US National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading internet companies. Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story for the Guardian, has been focused on government surveillance for years and the article is expected to attract an investigation from the justice department.
♦ Turkey is having its 1969, writes Ben Judah, and now it needs its Charles de Gaulle.
♦ Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s absence in Turkey this week has highlighted the difference in style between him and Abdullah Gul, the president.
♦ Ollie Rehn, the European Commission’s economic chief, has lashed out at the IMF’s criticism of the first Greek bailout, accusing the fund of revisionist history.
♦ What are the choices for Syrian citizens now? They are all grim and make the Geneva talks more urgent than ever, says Charles Glass.
♦ The humanities division at Harvard University is attracting fewer undergraduates amid concerns about the degree’s value in a rapidly changing job market. Read more
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Getty)
The AKP (Justice and Development party) and its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have dominated Turkish politics since 2002. Since then, the country’s economy has tripled in size and Turkey has become an ever more influential player in global diplomacy. And yet, as the continuing protests show, many Turks are deeply unhappy with Erdogan and what his critics charge is an increasingly autocratic style of government.
What is it about Erdogan and his government that so polarises opinion in Turkey?
Here are the some of the best reads of recent years on Erdogan and the changing dynamics of his government: Read more
♦ While most in Turkey acknowledge that every Turkish ruling class has sought to put its stamp on Istanbul, there is a growing sense that none has done so as insistently as the current government. Philip Stephens thinks Mr Erdogan’s heavy-handed response has only proved the protesters right. However, the protesters themselves have been let down on all sides, says Dani Rodrik: “Sadly, there is no organised political movement that can give voice and representation to the protesters that have made their point so loudly and clearly in recent days.”
♦ As Bradley Manning’s trial continues, he has a strong network of supporters behind him – more than 20,000 people have raised $1.25m for his defence.
♦ When Ben Bernanke spoke to the graduating class at Princeton this year, he seemed to confirm his intention to retire. John Cassidy considers why he would do so despite being in good health and good standing.
♦ US infantry are training Afghan troops to take over Afghanistan’s Wardak province, while trying to protect Highway 1, the lifeline that runs between Wardak and Kabul and, ultimately, their exit route out of the country.
♦ Jonah Blank explains how the US military will have to start negotiating like the Pashtuns: “A Pashtun proverb states: ‘A man with the power to fight doesn’t need to bargain.’ For more than a decade, power and money have shielded America from the necessity of negotiation. That luxury is over.” Read more