EghtesadOnline: President Vladimir Putin vowed to step up the fight against terrorism after the assassination of Russia’s ambassador in Ankara, as he and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the killing won’t undermine the restoration of ties strained by the war in Syria.
The murder of Andrey Karlov, the first Moscow envoy to be killed in his post in almost 90 years, was an “open provocation aimed at derailing the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations and the peace process in Syria,” Putin said in televised remarks late Monday after he’d spoken by phone with Erdogan. The response will be a stronger assault on terrorism and “the bandits will feel it,” he told a meeting of his security council, according to Bloomberg.
“We will never allow our relationship with Russia to be ruined or damaged,” Erdogan said in televised remarks in Istanbul on Tuesday, as he offered condolences to the Russian people and said Turkey’s determined to find the truth about the murder. Erdogan said he and Putin agree “that our expanding fields of cooperation with Russia led by Syria will not be affected by this attack.”
Turkish and Russian investigators will jointly probe the attack by the gunman who shot Karlov in the back at an art exhibit. The killer shouted “Allahu akbar” and “don’t forget Aleppo” -- a reference to the Syrian city where mostly Islamist rebels have been defeated this month by Russian-backed government troops. The taking of the city, once Syria’s largest, represents one of Russia’s biggest victories since it joined the Syrian war last year in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey, which supported the insurgents there and elsewhere in Syria, has played a key role along with Russia in negotiating the continuing evacuation of opposition fighters and civilians from Aleppo. The three-way talks with Iran, Assad’s other main supporter, are intended to help forge a settlement as Assad increasingly gains the upper hand, leaving the U.S. on the sidelines.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu placed flowers under a portrait of the slain diplomat on Tuesday, before joint talks on Syria in Moscow with Iran’s chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The discussions seek to promote a cease-fire and fight terrorists, Lavrov said. There’s no alternative to a political solution and “we need to work together in order to put an end to terrorists,” Zarif said. Turkey wants to expand a truce to cover all of Syria excluding terrorist groups, Cavusoglu said.
Russia achieved what the U.S. failed to deliver in Aleppo by separating terrorists from moderate Syrian opposition, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at separate Moscow talks on Tuesday with his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik. While the U.S. and its partners have had no influence on the ground, Russia, Turkey and Iran are ready to act as guarantors of a settlement in Syria, Shoigu said at a meeting with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan.
Putin and Erdogan only recently restored relations that all but collapsed when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November last year. Russia and Turkey made clear that the killing of the envoy won’t become another flashpoint.
“We’re sincerely grateful to our Turkish colleagues for their immediate reaction to this barbaric crime and for their condolences,” Lavrov told Cavusoglu at bilateral talks earlier. “There can be no concessions to terrorists” amid negotiations to resolve the Syrian conflict, he said.
The killing was intended to harm Russian-Turkish relations and “we won’t let that happen,” Cavusoglu said. “We must uncover who’s behind this heinous terror attack,” while the Ankara street where the Russian embassy is located will be renamed after Karlov, he said.
The ambassador’s body will be flown back to Russia on Tuesday, according to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s office.
Turkish authorities named the attacker as Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old active-duty police officer. He was killed by security forces and his possible connection with organized groups is being probed, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. The gunman’s mother, sister and a friend who shared an Ankara apartment with him have been detained for questioning, prosecutors said.
The fall of Aleppo marked a defeat for Turkey, which supported the Sunni Muslim groups fighting against Assad. Russia says the Syrian rebels are overwhelmingly made up of Islamic extremists, while Turkey has argued that they’re resisting a violent dictatorship.
While that’s still the Turkish line, in practice the country has switched its focus since the rapprochement between Erdogan and Putin. Turkish troops have pushed deep into Syria since August, but they’re mostly targeting Kurdish groups and Islamic State fighters and have steered clear of the battle for Aleppo.
Turkey paid an economic price last time its relationship with Moscow turned sour, as Russia imposed sanctions that targeted the country’s exports and tourism market. Russians must “think seriously” before travelling to Turkey, Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service.
In the past 10 days, more than 50 people were killed in two bomb attacks in Istanbul and central Turkey that targeted security forces and were claimed by Kurdish militants. Turkey reported a shrinking economy in the third quarter for the first time in seven years, as the instability sapped business and consumer confidence.
The last ambassador from Moscow killed abroad was Soviet envoy Pyotr Voikov in Warsaw in 1927. Two more envoys were murdered before that, including the writer Alexander Griboyedov, who was ambassador to Iran when he was killed by an angry mob in 1829. Putin had been due to see a performance of one of Griboyedov’s plays in Moscow on Monday when the crisis in Ankara erupted.
The U.S., Turkey’s NATO ally, shares its allegiance to rebel groups in Syria, even though many of them have ties to al-Qaeda and other Islamist factions. The U.S. has repeatedly denounced Russia for killing civilians during the campaign to recapture Aleppo, while also seeking an understanding between the two most powerful outside actors in the Syrian war that could help to end the conflict.
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the killing of the Russian envoy, and said in an e-mailed statement that America is ready to assist the investigation. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi called the killing a “barbaric act of terrorism.”