The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara was a clear attempt to destabilize Russian-Turkish relations. For now, Turkey looks determined to continue on its current course.
Members of a Turkish honour guard carry the Russian flag-draped coffin of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov who was assassinated on Monday, December 20, 2016. Photo: AP
For a different take read: "The killing of Russia's ambassador in Turkey: A stab in the back"
Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated on Dec. 19 in Ankara when he was visiting an art gallery. This was a shocking and unprecedented event in the heart of the Turkish capital. According to videos from the scene, the assassin was shouting religious slogans in support of jihadists in Aleppo and blaming Russia for the ongoing operation in this Syrian city.
Clearly, the world needs to pay attention to what has been going on in Syria, especially the changing nature of the Russian-Turkish relationship there. After the hot months of summer, a process of rapprochement started between Russia and Turkey – two countries that were at the edge of war just a year ago. Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, and after an unsuccessful Turkish coup attempt in July, the two leaders coordinated a St. Petersburg summit, which paved the way for the two countries to find common ground in the Syrian crisis together.
There were question marks whether Ankara and Moscow could be successful in cooperating in Syria after previous confrontation because, from the beginning of the civil war, the two powers sided with opposite camps. However, apart from some minor problems, the parties have gained considerable momentum in their bilateral relations, especially in Syria.
Ankara has started to abandon its previous policy to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad and support religious opposition groups. In return for this, Russia approved Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a branch of the terrorist group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Ankara and Moscow have even started to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the region. Thanks to this cooperation, Assad’s forces were able to regain Aleppo, which is the second biggest city of the country. The Turkish armed forces and its allies, including members of the Free Syrian Army, were able to form a buffer zone between the Afrin and Kobane cantons of the PYD, mainly by defeating ISIS.
After Aleppo, the time had come for Euphrates Shield’s forces to conquer Al Bab. This is an important city not only because it is a powerful ISIS stronghold but also because it is the last area that poses a physical barrier for the two Kurdish cantons to unite. While PYD forces under U.S. support are trying to unite their zones, Turkey is trying to prevent completion of the PYD corridor, which forms part of the U.S. project for a Greater Middle East, since this would create an existential threat to its own territorial integrity.
Under such circumstances, at exactly the moment when the Turkish army was about to enter Al Bab after the victory of Assad in Aleppo, a series of terrorist attacks started in Turkey.
Those terrorist attacks have caused a mounting death toll for Turkish security forces and civilians, all within the span of a week. At first, the Turkish police was attacked in Istanbul and that was followed by a suicide bomb attack against unarmed Turkish soldiers in Kayseri. The PKK took responsibility for committing those offenses.
Those terrorist acts were intended as a message to Turkey to stop its advancement in Syria against the PYD and stop its strategic cooperation with Moscow. From this perspective, only with the approval of Russia could Turkey carry out such an operation in Syria.
Nevertheless, the Turkish operation in northern Syria and cooperation with Russia have not halted. Just the opposite, in fact. Turkey even decided to participate to the joint meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran for future peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict in Moscow on Dec. 20. That was a clear sign that Turkey is changing its axis in Syria and abandoning its previous partners - the U.S. and Saudi Arabia - in exchange for Russia and Iran.
In such an atmosphere, the world was shocked with the news coming from Ankara about the assassination of Russian Ambassador Karlov. Although the assassin shouted religious slogans before and after the killing, it’s likely that these events were orchestrated by a common mastermind with a broader strategy in mind.
In short, this attack was a continuation of terrorist acts in Turkey that took place recently. One should not ignore the fact that there are different groups within Turkey that are highly critical and downright furious about Turkey’s new orientation towards Eurasia.
Therefore, this is a clear attempt to undermine ongoing Turkish-Russian cooperation regarding Syria. Turkey is now questioning its positioning in the international system and its traditional Western partnership. Even targeting Russia’s ambassador is a show of how serious Turkey’s new orientation is from the perspective of terrorist groups.
Under such circumstances, it is expected that third parties who are unsatisfied with Turkey's new orientation to Eurasia will try to further destabilize Turkey and undermine its strategic partnership with Russia. They once again want Turkey and Russia to be pulled into confrontation one year after the provocation that resulted in the shooting down of the Russian SU 24.
Having kept in mind that the assassination could be interpreted as a clear message to block the evolving partnership between Russia and Turkey, one should not ignore the current difficult situation in Turkey. There is a fierce battle going between pro-Western and pro-Eurasian forces in the country. This will create further tension and a decisive confrontation will occur in 2017.
Now it is not clear which side will win this intense rivalry. However, if the pro-Eurasian forces will be successful, then nobody should be surprised by the further deterioration of EU-Turkey relations and even the end of the NATO membership of the country.
Under such a scenario, two Eurasian powers, Russia and Turkey, could form a high-level strategic geopolitical alliance in wider Eurasia. Nevertheless, even if the question regarding Turkey’s orientation will be answered in favor of the pro-Eurasian forces, then another question arises: Is Russia willing and ready to embrace such an option?
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.