Tragedy in Ankara: Causes and hard lessons

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Tragedy in Ankara: Causes and hard lessons 26.12.2016 11:34

On the evening of Dec. 19, an act of terror targeted Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. He was assassinated at the official opening of a photo exhibit in Ankara. Three more people were wounded in the same attack, and they were all hospitalized.

The act of terror was perpetrated shortly after the seizure of Aleppo by the Syrian army and just before the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers met in Moscow to discuss the resolution of the Syrian crisis. It appears that Karlov had no security detail. His attendance at the photo exhibit at the Modern Art Center was announced in advance. Once the Russian Ambassador wrapped up his welcome address, the man who stood behind him shot Karlov several times and then started yelling in Turkish, “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria. As long as our brothers remain in harm’s way, you aren’t going to be safe.”

The assailant broke several photographs before being gunned down by the Turkish special service. The attacker was identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Altintas, who graduated from the Izmir police college. He had worked as a police officer for two years before being fired in July 2016 after the failed coup. That is why he managed to pass through security unnoticed.


Who is behind the attack?

The most likely cause for the attack is an attempt to derail the Moscow meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Objectively, that is in the interest of the countries that are still hoping to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, most prominently, Saudi Arabia, which keeps supporting, albeit only to a certain extent, the radical Al-Nusra Front (referred to as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham since July 2016).

This organization was defeated in Aleppo and is currently being driven out towards Idlib. Moreover, its financial support, as well as the supply of weapons, munitions, military and other equipment, comes from Turkey. That is why any attempts to seal off the Turkish-Syrian border, which seems to be inevitable in light of the ongoing rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara, will result in catastrophic repercussions for Al-Nusra.

Qatar, as a long-time supporter of the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), might also seek to benefit from the attack. Of course, the current improvement in relations between Moscow and Doha is a flaw in this hypothesis. Dec. 7 was the date of the privatization of a 19.5 percent stake in Russia’s state-owned Rosneft oil and gas company. Foreign investors included the Qatar Investment Authority (Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund). Estimates vary, but the transaction’s value is reported to have been approximately $10-11 billion.

Still, it does not mean that Doha has abandoned its commitment to the containment of Tehran, which has long been a part of the confrontation between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The strengthening of Iran in the Middle East, including Syria, adversely affects this country’s (overblown) regional ambitions.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to point fingers at the destabilizing actions of the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf and ignore the part played by the West, which feels left out and, therefore, seeks to prevent the creation of the Russia-Iran-Turkey alliance. If the triumvirate were to gain momentum, and there are reasons to believe that it could happen based on the joint efforts on seizing Aleppo, it would weaken the stance of the U.S. and its allies.

Yet it doesn't necessarily mean that Western intelligence orchestrated the murder of the Russian Ambassador.

Lessons to be learned from the Ankara tragedy

What conclusions should be drawn in the aftermath of the tragedy in Ankara?

First, Russian diplomats need tighter security detail regardless of their location. As Russia’s authority might grow internationally, this need will only increase due to the inevitable rise in the number of its opponents. Second, the Russian secret service should pay special attention to the protection of Russian diplomatic personnel located outside of Russia. Third, countering hostile special services should be coordinated both bilaterally and multilaterally (specifically, through the Collective Security Treaty Organization). Fourth, Russia should boost its efforts in fighting various manifestations of terrorism and radicalism.

Thus, the act of terror against Ambassador Karlov should be investigated, and its perpetrators and masterminds punished to the full extent of the law. But all sides involved should respond not by instigating mutual suspicions, which is what terrorism sponsors in Turkey, Syria and other countries are hoping for, but by interacting closely with the entire international community.

Russia, Turkey and Iran should set the example by resolving the crisis in Syria. The best response to the terrible tragedy in Ankara would be the three countries coming together to rid northwestern Syria of Islamist radicals.


Vladimir Evseev