A Turkey police officer’s public assassination of a Russian ambassador has caused global alarm and raised worries about potential deadly consequences. Turkey and Russia’s up and down relationship is currently under strain following Monday’s assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov.
The assassination is yet another deadly result of the bloody war in Syria, in which both Turkey and Russia are taking part. But could the incident lead to bigger consequences?
Many experts drew parallels to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which started World War I last century. But comparing Monday’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to the 1914 event is pure dramatization. Although relations between Turkey and Russia are strained, neither Moscow nor Ankara view the incident as reason for hostilities between them.
What does it mean for Turkey-Russia relations?
After less than a year of deteriorating relations, Turkey and Russia finally rebuilt their friendship this summer when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia to amend ties. But the assassination, which took place at an art gallery in the Turkish capital of Ankara where Karlov was speaking, could actually create unnecessary tensions between the two nations.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the killing, the assassin was trying to send a clear message. The gunman, identified as 22-year-old riot police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, shouted, “God is great” in Arabic and later said in Turkish, “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria.”
While experts think it’s unlikely he could have acted alone, the incident is yet more evidence that the civil war in Syria must be resolved as soon as possible.
Will Russia retaliate?
But should we expect eerie consequences after the incident? Is Russia prepared to retaliate against Turkey for the assassination of its ambassador?
Although Turkey and Russia have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, it’s unlikely that the two nations will engage in any kind of military standoff following the assassination of the ambassador.
Both Ankara and Moscow seem to be interested in keeping the situation in Syria under control and continue to put forth big efforts in joint cooperation. The main indication of this is that the two nations are pointing fingers at mutual enemies instead of blaming each other for the assassination. It’s yet unclear if the incident will have any impact on the resolve of Turkey and Russia to end the deadly conflict in war-torn Syria.
The Russian Air Force has been a key player in the Syrian civil war and participated in the Syrian government’s successful assault on rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Turkey and Russia have put forth a great deal of effort to resolve Syria’s civil war lately. The two nations have made big advances in putting an end to the war in Syria by lining up their once-conflicting strategies in the war-torn country. And although it’s unlikely the Monday’s incident will revive tensions between Turkey and Russia, the two nations could choose to revisit their joint cooperation in Syria.
Bloody Syrian conflict: how will Moscow and Ankara play it?
The decades-strong friendship between Turkey and Russia hit its lowest level in recent history in November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian military jet over Syrian airspace. Economic and diplomatic relations between Ankara and Moscow took a big hit after the incident. But shortly after an attempted coup against the Turkish government in July, Erdogan chose Moscow to be his first post-coup destination, showing his interest in amending ties with his once-very close friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The cooperation between Turkey and Russia on Syria has already had a huge impact on the bloody conflict. Last week, the two nations brokered a deal with Syrian rebels to evacuate civilians from Aleppo.
On Monday, Ankara and Moscow launched a joint investigation into the assassination of the Russian ambassador. That same day, a team of 18 Russian investigators arrived in Ankara to examine the crime scene. Turkish police arrested six relatives and a roommate of the gunman. It’s yet unclear if the assassin acted alone or if he had any ties to the Islamic State (ISIS).
The assassination of a high-ranking foreign official in the capital at a public gathering says nothing good about a country’s security. Turkey has sustained a number of terrorist attacks lately. Kurdish separatists claimed responsibility for one of the most recent terror attacks in Turkey. The increasing number of attacks in Turkey means the country has alarming problems with security.
Who’s to blame for the assassination?
It’s unlikely that Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia will suffer due to the assassination of the Russian ambassador. Officials from both Moscow and Ankara have said bilateral relations shouldn’t be damaged by it. Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called the assassination “a terror attack against Turkish-Russian relations.”
Despite last year’s downing of Russia’s jet, Ankara and Moscow have enjoyed close ties that go back decades. For more than 20 years, the two nations enjoyed strong bilateral ties in trade and tourism. In October, Russia and Turkey agreed to cooperate on a natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea. But since Turkey shot down the Russian jet last year, its economy has suffered a lot.
Russia’s ban on tourists traveling to Turkey hit the $860 billion economy hard. A series of terrorist attacks in Turkey didn’t make it any easier for the country’s economy this year. Turkey’s tourism industry accounts for about 6% of its gross domestic product, which means any major declines in the industry are felt throughout the country’s economy.
There’s no indication that the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara will have a serious impact on the number of tourists traveling to and from Turkey.
What happens next?
Erdogan said in a televised speech that Russia and Turkey will ramp up their cooperation against terrorism. The Turkish President also vowed more cooperation between the two nations on Syria. That could mean his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will act even wilder in Syria.
While it’s unlikely Moscow wants any retaliation against Ankara for the killing of its ambassador, the two nations could change their strategies in Syria. The consequences of that could either help resolve the deadly conflict in Syria or result in even more casualties.