We saw the fall of Aleppo coming for months and it was just as brutally executed as we thought it would be. The question of the fallout Russia will experience for involving itself in such a brutal operation—and the Syrian conflict in general—has also become more ominous in recent weeks as violence has ratcheted up. We've already heard the international condemnations. Now it appears the repercussions have turned deadly, as Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead on camera by a man yelling “we die in Aleppo, you die here!”
The horrific moment occurred while the ambassador was speaking at an art gallery in the Turkish capital of Ankara. A ranting man in a suit pulled a pistol and shot the Ambassador from behind. Security forces quickly counter-attacked and killed the assailant, but he made his message clear before being taken down in a barrage of gunfire.
Warning—this is graphic content:
What comes to many people’s minds when a high-ranking official is killed in such a volatile region is if they've just witnessed a “Franz Ferdinand” moment—one that could set tensions aflame and plunge a region—even a hemisphere into war. The answer in this case is likely no.
Russia and Turkey have been down a similar road recently. Last year, among increasing rhetoric between Turkey and Russia, Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 for crossing over the Syrian-Turkish border for mere seconds. One pilot died in the shoot down, with his corpse being displayed on social media, the other lived to tell the story. This event plunged Turkish-Russian relations into the abyss, with tense posturing by both sides as they felt each other out. In the end it didn’t lead far. Diplomatic relations were badly strained, some trade and travel was halted and accusations flew back and forth, but that was about it.
In the seven or so months that followed, Russian-Turkish relations slowly improved, but they were still nowhere near as tidy as they were prior to Russia’s direct involvement in the Syrian civil war. That all changed once again after the events of the night of July 15th, 2016 when factions within the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the Erdogan government by military coup. The coup failed in a fairly miserable fashion, but the aftermath is still sending geopolitical shockwaves.
Massive crackdowns throughout the Turkish government on perceived political opposition followed and Erdogan’s grip on power dramatically increased. Meanwhile, the ever-more totalitarian Erdogan began distancing himself from his NATO allies, and primarily the US, while cozying up closer to Russia. Erdogan’s accusation that the coup attempt largely stemmed from an exiled Turkish cleric living in the US, and America’s unwillingness to extradite him to Turkey, only increased US-Turkish volatility. Following the coup, Turkey dived dramatically into the Syrian conflict with a land offensive and stepped up attacks on Kurdish groups in Northern Syria—many of which the US back directly with expertise and material in the fight against ISIS. Today, US-Turkish ties remain strained, and there have been direct calls to have the US remove its tactical nuclear arsenal from the country.
With this recent history in mind, what is more likely to happen following this horrific assassination is that both Erdogan and Putin will use this death to consolidate support for their actions in Syria—though Putin may have a tougher time of it than Erdogan.
The story continues to unfold quickly, and the ID of the assassin is likely to be a big fulcrum that will help dictate the official responses from both Turkey and Russia.
We will keep this page updated throughout the day as more info becomes available.
Update: 12:50pm PST-
Al Aribya has posted the identity of the attacker, stating:
“The gunman was a policeman who was off duty entered the hall using a policeman ID, while journalists who were present thought he was one of the ambassador's personal bodyguard. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in in video message that the attacker was Mevlut Mert Aydintas, who worked for Ankara riot police for over two years.”
He also quoted Osama Bin Laden before being shot dead stating “you will not have security, even in your dreams until we live it in reality in our countries."
Three other people were injured in the attack and counterattack.
Update: 2:32pm PST-
President Putin has remarked on the shooting, stating:
"A crime has been committed and it was without doubt a provocation aimed at spoiling the normalization of Russo-Turkish relations and spoiling the Syrian peace process which is being actively pushed by Russia, Turkey, Iran and others… There can only be one response— stepping up the fight against terrorism. The bandits will feel this happening."
Putin, who was a personal friend of the slain ambassador, also called for an increase in security at diplomatic facilities abroad and told his intelligence forces that "We must know who directed the killer's hand."
Also it looks like Turkey will blame exiled Fethullah Gulen for the shooting although representatives for Gulen have strongly condemned it.
Update: 4:21pm PST-
President Erdogan said the following about the attack:
"Both Turkey and Russia have the will not to be deceived by this provocation... I believe this is an attack on Turkey, the Turkish state and the Turkish people, and also a clear provocation to Turkish-Russian relations. I am sure our Russian friends also see this fact." Erdogan continued, "Our relations with Russia are significant... I am calling on those who aim to destroy our relations: You are waiting in vain. You will never reach your goals."
Both Russia and Turkey have labeled the incident as an act of terrorism.
There are also reports that the off-duty cop who murdered the ambassador was part of an elite unit and on Erdogan's security detail on two different trips, one in 2014 and one in 2015.
Contact the author Tyler@thedrive.com