The graphic, televised, murder of Russian diplomat Andrey Karlov by a jihadist at an art gallery in Turkey’s capital is an embarrassing event for the Erdogan administration at a time of heightened tensions. Yet, relations with Russia have the potential to emerge stronger from this most public of crimes.
Calmly addressing the camera, as well as the guests gathered at the “Russia in the eyes of turks” exhibition in the Contemporary Arts Center of Ankara, Ambassador Karlov could not have feared that moments later he would be dead. Perhaps one, feeble, silver lining to an otherwise brutal and public execution.
The assailant, later to be identified as 22 yr old Mevlut Mert Altintas – a graduate of Izmir police college, was gunned down by Turkish forces in the ensuing shootout. However, not before he was able to vocalise his motivation for killing the diplomat.
In the video footage as well as the witness accounts, Altintas was heard to exclaim in Arabic: “God is great! Those who pledged allegiance to Muhammad for jihad. God is great!” He then reverted to Turkish and shouted: “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria! Step back! Step back! Only death can take me from here.”
World Leaders React
Putin decried the murder as a ‘despicable killing’, and the killing was widely condemned by leaders from around the world including US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenburg. Erdogan, for his part, was quick to denounce it as an attempt to hinder recent improvements in the economic and regional relations between the two countries.
However, the Syrian War and Russia’s involvement has been the source of protests in Turkey for some time. As recently as Saturday, thousands of people gathered at the Turkish border with Syria, carrying aid for Syrians, placards denouncing the Russians and chants of “Murderer Russians, get out of Syria” according the Middle East Eye.
What are the implications for Russia/Turkey Relations
There will be many Russian citizens wondering how it came to be that the highest ranking representative of their nation in Turkey came to be exposed in such a seemingly facile way. Furthermore, some would expect at the least a public statement from their leader in the same vein.
The shooting down of a Russian jet by the Turkish army in November of last year (resulting in the death of the pilot), brought relations between the countries to a new low. It is only recently that a detente was reached with the announcement of a new pipeline across the black sea.
However, the measured responses of Erdogan and Putin in the aftermath of the shooting are a sign that the assassination will bring them closer together. Indeed, a common motivation to rally against terrorism could provide ballast to their historically turbulent ties.
Russia Seeks the Advantage
Analyst Dimitar Bechev of London School of Economics said the diplomat’s murder would mean that Russia would have additional leverage and be able to make demands of Turkey, including the Syrian War.
“No doubt, in public, Russia will second whatever explanation the Turks produce to account for the attack. In private, however, there will be a price tag. Moscow has the higher ground and will undoubtedly milk the opportunity to the best of its abilities,” he wrote.
Despite the clear jihadist ideology behind the killing, it appears that some Russian officials are already using murky terminology to suggest that other powers were involved.
“Those who were behind the killing of the Russian ambassador were trying to reverse the improvement in Russia-Turkey ties that has allowed our nations to start discussing the Syrian settlement”, claimed Alexei Pushkov of the upper parliament. Some observers believe this to be a veiled jibe at the US.
So, in the aftermath of the shooting, amid the widespread condemnation of the political elite, a perceived stand against terrorism between two united nations has emerged. However, with the Russians making moves, and the the Turkish put on the back foot – in addition to the recent instability and violence in the country – it is clear who has the upper hand.