Russia and Turkey have come a long way over the past year.
In November 2015, the Turkish Air Force blew a Russian fighter jet out of the sky. And the countries were (and continue to be) at great odds over the civil war in Syria. Over the past year, however, relations between the two countries have rapidly improved. Their successful detente was illustrated by the Russian ambassador’s speaking engagement at a photo exhibit’s opening ceremony in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
Today, however, Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was delivering remarks, when he was assassinated by a lone assailant who has since been identified as 22-year-old Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. The off-duty officer reportedly shouted, “Allahu akbar! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”
“After shooting the ambassador, the gunman climbed to the second floor of the same building and a 15-minute shootout with police ensued before he was killed, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported,” the AP reports.
Now, where do we go from here?
Take him at his word?
The gunman’s actions and rhetoric suggest he was motivated by the Russian government’s role and action in Syria’s civil war. It should be noted that he did not attack the stunned innocent bystanders at the exhibit after striking down the Russian ambassador.
Was this a mere act of revenge, or something much more?
Was the shooter a jihadist?
Pro-government sources in Turkey are alleging that shooter could have been tied to Al Nusra, an ally of al-Qaeda that is operating in Syria. But there appears to be no proof of any substantial ties thus far.
What is the state media saying?
Observers may want to check in with the state-run media outlets in both Moscow and Ankara, as the media censors often reflect the official government stance on important issues.
The Turkish government, often without proof, frequently takes to blaming Gulenists — followers of Fethullah Gulen, a popular cleric who now lives in exile in America — for terrorist attacks or any other negative event that happens inside the country.
Most notably, after a failed July coup attempt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gulen for inciting the attempted overthrow. Yet, he never provided any evidence that Gulen was involved.
And right on cue, the mayor of Ankara has alleged Gulen is to blame for Andrey Karlov’s assassination.
Blame America/the West?
Nothing unites two adversaries like some good old-fashioned anti-American conspiracies, which are known to be rife in both Turkey and Russia.
Katehon, a Russian think tank that promotes extreme anti-American views, has called the assassination a “typical CIA operation” meant to sow discord between Russia and Turkey.
Additionally, a Kremlin representative has blamed the attack on the “secret services” of a “NATO country.”
Will this incident worsen the ever-increasing sectarian chaos in Syria? Just before the assassination, Russia had finally agreed to pause its military campaigns in Aleppo and let select civilians evacuate from the area. Does this latest incident mean the deal is off? (For more from the author of “Russian Ambassador to Turkey Gunned down ‘for Aleppo.’ What’s next for Turkish-Russian Relations?” please click HERE)