On Monday, a Turkish gunman assassinated Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov as the diplomat was giving a speech at an Ankara art gallery. The perpetrator, a 22-year-old police officer named Mevlut Mert Altintas, reportedly denounced the violence in Syria before being killed in a firefight with law enforcement.
“Don’t forget Aleppo,” he cried. “Don’t forget Syria!”
Moscow and Turkey’s Erdogan regime have been trying to mend diplomatic fences and bring the ongoing Syrian civil war to an end. The Kremlin, which backs Syria’s official Assad government, has been negotiating with Turkey, which has supported the rebel resistance. Both countries have tried to develop a plan to stop the fighting and evacuate innocent civilians from the war-torn rebel stronghold of Aleppo. The day after Karlov’s assassination, Russia, Iran, and Turkey said they were working towards a ceasefire.
“Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to facilitate the drafting of an agreement, which is already being negotiated, between the Syrian government and the opposition, and to become its guarantors,” the three nations said in a joint statement. “We have invited all other countries with influence over the situation on the ground to do the same.”
If that sounds like a remark meant for the United States, it’s probably not by accident. Shortly after the declaration was released, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the point more explicitly.
“All previous attempts by the United States and its partners to agree on coordinated actions were doomed to failure,” Shoigu said. “None of them wielded real influence over the situation on the ground.”
But if Russia and Turkey were warming to each other, this latest tragedy won’t help matters. Oleg Syromolotov, Moscow’s deputy foreign minister, warned Russian citizens against visiting the country.
“I believe that every person who is going to Turkey should think twice before doing so, because terror attacks have been happening there on a practically daily basis,” Syromolotov said.
On Tuesday, Russian and Turkish detectives were trying to determine if the shooter was part of a larger movement to destabilize and topple the Erdogan regime. Investigators believe Altintas may be linked to Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Islamist currently living in the United States. Erdogan has accused Gulen of inspiring the attempted coup against his government this summer, though the preacher insists he had nothing to do with it.
At the end of the day, Karlov’s assassination is another sign of how important it is to restore stability and peace to Syria. The so-called Arab Spring has been nothing but a nightmare for the Middle East, replacing one form of authoritarianism with another. Hopefully, President Trump, unlike his predecessor, can keep the U.S. out of these regional conflicts. It never turns out well.