Russia’s ambassador was shot dead in the Turkish capital on Monday in an assassination apparently linked to Syria’s civil war, heightening tensions over a conflict that’s drawn in almost all the region’s main powers.
Andrei Karlov was shot in the back at an art exhibit in Ankara on Monday and died from his injuries according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. “Don’t forget Aleppo,” the assailant shouted, according to footage on Turkish television, in a reference to the Syrian city where mostly Islamist rebels have been defeated this month by Russian-backed government troops. Local media said the attacker was killed by security forces.
Karlov’s death comes days after one of Russia’s biggest victories since it joined the Syrian war last year in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s army, with Russian air support, has retaken almost all of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and for years a rebel bastion. Turkey, which supported the insurgents there and elsewhere in Syria, has played a key role along with Russia in negotiating the ongoing evacuation of opposition fighters and civilians.
The attack on the Russian ambassador is the latest potential flashpoint between major powers that are engaged on opposite sides of the Syrian war. Turkey’s ties with Russia came under heavy strain after the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane last year, though both governments have since made an effort to repair them. The U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the other countries that are either fighting in Syria themselves or providing money and weapons to groups that are.
Turkey’s lira slid after the attack, losing 0.8 percent against the dollar at 9 p.m. local time.
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, and 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 in Syria since the rapprochement between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Turkish troops have pushed deep into the neighboring country since August, but they’re mostly targeting Kurdish groups and Islamic State fighters and steered clear of the battle for Aleppo.
Erdogan called Putin after Monday’s assassination to share information, according to NTV television, which cited the Turkish president’s spokesman.
Turkey paid an economic price last time its relationship with Moscow hit the buffers, as Russia imposed sanctions that targeted the country’s exports and tourism market.
Elena Suponina, an analyst at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies which advises the Kremlin, said the ambassador’s shooting probably won’t lead to a repeat. “This will only bring Russia and Turkey closer together,” she said. “These events have showed that we have a common enemy — terrorism — and only by joining forces can we deal with this enemy.”
Still, the killing again raises security concerns for Russian tourists in Turkey, Alexei Pushkov, a member of the defense and security committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house, said in televised comments. Tourism is a key source of foreign currency, and is already in decline after a series of attacks by Islamist and Kurdish groups.
The Turkish and Russian foreign ministers are due to meet in Moscow on Tuesday, along with their Iranian counterpart, to discuss the Syrian war. Iran, the region’s leading Shiite power, is another supporter of Assad’s government and a traditional rival of mostly Sunni Turkey.
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack on the Russian envoy. The U.S., Turkey’s NATO ally, shares its allegiance to rebel groups in Syria and has repeatedly denounced Russia for killing civilians during the campaign to recapture Aleppo.
The gunman who killed Karlov was a serving member of Ankara’s riot police, Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported.
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