Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman have a lot in common. The Russian, Turkish and Saudi leaders are all nationalists with regional ambitions. They are autocrats who have centralised power and have been ruthless with domestic political opposition. And they are all risk-takers, who are happy to use military force.

These three strongmen are also believers in the diplomacy of personal relations. Like mafia dons, they can be best friends one day and bitter enemies the next. That matters because their often conflicting interests are fomenting conflict across a swath of territory from the Middle East to North Africa and the Caucasus. If their rivalries get out of hand, civilians will suffer.

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