In an extraordinary development, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, has been shot dead whilst giving a speech at an art gallery. The shooter is reported to have shouted “this is for Aleppo”.
The shooting comes as tensions simmer between Turkey and Russia over events in Syria, with President Erdogan having to perform a tactical ‘retreat’ earlier this year following Russia’s antagonistic support for the nationalist Kurdish movement which saw the HDP open an office in Moscow as well as rapid expansion for the YPG in Syria into vacated rebel territory.
Irrespective as to who committed this recent act, here we look at what are the potential implications for Turkey and Russia.
There is no doubt that the death of an ambassador, even in this particular case, is hugely embarrassing. However it is unlikely to cause a rupture in relations with Russia. Turkey and Russia have been cooperating over the ceasefire agreement in Aleppo and Putin has openly called for negotiations of a peace settlement that includes Turkey and Iran, and excludes the United States, a sign of the extent to which Turkey has toned down its antagonistic approach towards Russia’s operations in Syria.
If anything, this act will be used to further cement the Russian narrative of the anti-Assad movement being heavily infiltrated by terrorists, harming the legitimacy of the Syrian revolution.
The incredible reconciliation between Moscow and Ankara over the downing of the Russian jet in November last year was a testament to how both countries are keen not to open unnecessary fronts in their bids to achieve their aims in the region. Erdogan is keen not to alienate Moscow following increasingly cool relations with the US in the aftermath of the attempted coup in July. Likewise, Putin sees the courting of a NATO member (Turkey) as a coup against the US, and has much to gain diplomatically in maintaining cooperation with Ankara. Putin will be keen not to allow the situation it escalate.
Iran has raised eyebrows over recent cooperation between Moscow and Ankara. Moreover, Tehran has been concerned over rumours of Turkish mobilisation of troops into Syria that Ankara. The death of the ambassador is likely to put a strain on Turkish-Russian relations, and cause Ankara to be more cautious and abandon more brazen plans for military intervention in Syria.
Kurdish nationalist movement
The chaos in Syria provided the perfect backdrop to rekindle the quest for independence that had been dampened by the AKP’s governance which brought back the Kurdish language in schools, and saw a decline in the maltreatment that had become a hallmark of the Ataturk legacy.
After abandoning the peace process, the nationalist Kurds have once become embroiled in a war with the government.
A diplomatic fiasco between Turkey and Russia, and bringing the countries to the brink of war, would provide the perfect environment to undermine Erdogan domestically, creating a domestic war of attrition that would turn public opinion against the government.