Six Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask about Russia and Turkey

All you wanted to know about the Ankara assassination and how ties between Russia and Turkey may be affected

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, was shot dead in an art gallery in Ankara on December 19 in the midst of giving the speech. The footage of the murder, which shows the assassin calmly standing behind Karlov before brazenly firing at him before the crowd, has shocked the world. Bayside Journal brings to you six questions you were too embarrassed to ask about the murder, Russia–Turkey relations and why the ongoing Syrian Civil War may have played a part.

1. Who shot the ambassador?

A man believed to be an off-duty Turkish police officer shot Karlov. He was killed by Turkish special forces. The Turkish Interior Ministry have named the attacker as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altıntas, an officer in Ankara’s riot police squad.

2. Why?

The assassin may have shot the ambassador as a retaliation against Russia’s military involvement in the Syrian Civil War. He had shouted in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”

He then shouted in Arabic: “We are the one who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage jihad.”

3. What have the two countries said about the attack?

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, has said in televised remarks that the killing was a “provocation aimed at disrupting the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and disrupting the peace process in Syria that is being actively advanced by Russia, Turkey and Iran”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed the same sentiment. He said: “After the incident [the attack on Andrei Karlov], during a conversation with Mr. Putin, we agreed this is indeed a provocation about that there is no dispute.”

“The Russians suggested it would be more effective to carry out a joint investigation and there is no problem from our side for their officials and ours for the duration of the case.”

Turkish security forces and Erdogan supporters have speculated that US-based exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen may have links to the assassin. Gulen has condemned the attack and denied the accusations.

4. Why do Russia and Turkey hate each other?

They don’t exactly hate each other but there have always been tensions between the two nations. Relations were at its lowest point Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and sided against Russia in the Cold War. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between the country improved and trade between the two countries was high. Russia disapproved Turkey’s entry to the European Union and disagreements over the Caucasus (a region between Europe and Asia) linger.

Turkey and Russia also support opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. Russia supports Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President whereas Turkey supports the anti-government Sunni forces. In 2015, the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Turkey-Syria border, which severely strained the relationship between the two nations. Putin labelled Turkey “accomplices of terrorists” and warned of “serious consequences”. Russia had imposed a string of economic sanctions on Turkey including: banning Turkish exports of fruit and vegetables to Russia, stopping visa-free travel and asking travel operators to cease vacation packages to Turkey.

After Erdoğan apologised to Putin over the death of the Russian pilot called Russia a “friend and a strategic partner” the icy relationship between the nations seem to thaw.

However, only recently Turkish people were protesting against Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War in Istanbul.

5. Will this impact relations between Russia and Turkey?

According to Stratfor, a Texas-based global intelligence company, the assassination of Karlov will bend Turkey-Russian relations but not break it. Both nations are heavily involved in the Syrian Civil War and do not have enough reason to break off diplomatic ties.

Putin himself said in televised remarks, “The only response we should offer to this murder is stepping up our fight against terror, and the criminals will feel the heat.”

The attack came a day before Turkey, Iran and Russia were to meet in Moscow to discuss the situation in Aleppo. The meeting is expected to take place as planned.

6. Why are people saying this will spark a third World War. Will it?

If you were scrolling through social media when the news of the assassination broke out, you may have read tweets and posts comparing the Ankara killing to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Some even speculated the asassination would ignite a third World War. Although assassinations of popular figures may give rise to military conflict, it is highly unlikely that a murder of a diplomat can cause a war between two nations that have already publicly labelled the attack as a provocation.

Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum has said that this incident may help Russia and Turkey to develop “even closer ties”.