European leaders were watching closely on Tuesday as the Presidents of Russia and Turkey met in Saint Petersburg in a move to patch up their differences.
Turkey is crucial to Europe since its territory has been used as a passage for tens of thousands of migrants escaping conflict in the Middle East. The EU has found itself offering large sums of cash and promises of fast-tracking EU membership, despite Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dictatorial exercise of power.
On the other side of the table, Vladimir Putin is proving himself eager to destabilise Western Europe, which has been outspoken in its criticism of Russian military incursions into Ukraine.
While relations between the two countries reached their lowest point with the shooting down of a Russian fighter on Turkey’s border with Syria, Erdogan appreciated the support of Russia during the recent coup attempt.
Commentators are quick to point out the characteristics the two leaders have in common. Both are authoritarian, and neither pays more than lip service to a free press or the treatment of minorities. However, in both their cases, relations with the European Union are strained and often confrontational. If the two charismatic and unpredictable strongmen can find common cause, or at least a rapprochement, Western Europe can expect more problems to come.