Earlier this week Russian President Vladimir Putin, still beaming from his re-election victory, tried to heighten his global profile with a much-advertised “summit” with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the tactical level, Putin and Erdogan need each other.
Erdogan gives Putin, who is asserting himself as the arbiter of Syria’s future, an “Islamic” cover to counter claims that Russia, having bombed large parts of Syria into rubble and killed tens of thousands of civilians, is now at war with Islam. It is no accident that Kremlin’s recent “advice” to Muslim preachers in mosques across the Russian federation includes the claims that Putin’s moves in Syria are backed by Erdogan.
For his part Erdogan, too, needs Putin a tactical level. It was Putin who told his protégé Bashar al-Assad not to press a claim for control of Syrian Kurdish areas annexed by Turkey in recent operations. Russian forces in Syria looked the other way as Turkish forces carved out the Syrian cordon sanitaire that Erdogan wanted.