*Update, Dec. 19, 2016, 3:12 p.m. EST
After a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today following the killing of Amb. Andrei Karlov, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the assassination in a televised statement as “clearly a provocation aimed at undermining the improvement and the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations as well as undermining the peace process in Syria.” He also said Russia’s response would be “stepping up the fight against terror.”
Meanwhile, Turkish officials are saying they are looking into connections between the assassin and the network supported by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey has blamed Gulen, one of Erdogan’s most prominent critics, for orchestrating the attempted coup against him last July. Gulen, who runs a global network of business and charitable interests, denies involvement. Since the coup, the Turkish government has arrested or fired thousands of people with alleged links to Gulen and demanded the U.S. extradite him. The Obama administration has rebuffed these requests so far, but National Security Advisor nominee Michael Flynn has suggested the Trump administration may agree to them.
Together, these responses suggest that both the Russian and Turkish governments will use today’s killing to press forward with renewed intensity on policies that are already in place rather than changing course.
*Update, Dec. 19, 2016, 1:03 p.m. EST: Early reports suggest the assassin was a police officer and that the ambassador had no security detail.
*Update, Dec. 19, 2016, 12:42 p.m. EST: Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Karlov was killed in the attack.
*Update, Dec. 19, 2016, 12:39 p.m. EST: Longer video from the scene shows the gunman yelling about Syria and Aleppo.
Original post: Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was reportedly shot and killed Monday while visiting an art gallery in Ankara. According to Turkish media reports, the gunman chanted Islamist slogans after firing the shot. Photographs from the scene show a man in a black suit holding a pistol near the podium where Karlov was shot.
Not much is known about the attack yet, but it comes after widespread anger and days of protests in Turkey against the Russian-backed Syrian regime assault on the city of Aleppo. Turkey has seen a number of major terrorist attacks this year, by both Islamist groups, including ISIS, and Kurdish militants.
Russia and Turkey have been at odds for years over the conflict in Syria, with Moscow as the primary foreign backer of Bashar al-Assad’s government and Turkey aiding the rebellion against him. Relations between the two countries hit a nadir late last year after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter on the Syria–Turkey border. While the underlying dispute remains, ties have improved over the past year between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are due to meet in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the future of Syria.
Russia has justified waging war in defense of Assad’s regime on the ground that it is fighting terrorism. But while Putin and Assad are definitely crushing the rebels as a force that can effectively fight and control territory in Syria, those fighters may now turn to traditional terrorist tactics—bombings, assassinations—and not just within the borders of Syria.
This post is being updated as news develops.