Analysis: How will Putin react to ambassador's assassination in Turkey?

Ambassador's assassination

Sources in Turkey were quick to blame supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher who is in exile in the United States.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey at an Ankara art gallery on Monday is unlikely to have a wide-ranging impact on the ongoing military and diplomatic standoff over Syria or on ties between Moscow and Ankara.

The Turkish shooter, who was killed by local security forces, is reportedly a graduate of the local police academy and took action to protest the mass murder that is taking place in Syria – and particularly Aleppo – by the Assad regime with the support of Russia, Iran and various Shi’ite militias.

By shooting Ambassador Andrei Karlov, the assassin was also protesting his own country’s sitting on the sidelines in the face of the ongoing atrocities in Syria. In recent months, Turkey has changed its position and is now cooperating with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia and Iran.

It could be that the objective of the assassination was to disrupt ties between Russia and Turkey, which have been on the rise ever since their lowest point following the Turkish downing of a Russian combat plane last year.

Sources in Turkey were quick to blame supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher who is in exile in the United States and who Erdogan has accused of plotting the failed coup over the summer. Since the attempted revolt, Erdogan has cracked down on his opponents and especially Gulen’s supporters, and purged the military and justice systems.

The assassination was caught on camera at the gallery and the security lapses that enabled the murder to occur are immediately clear. Karlov did not have protection, and if he did, the guards were not close to him and their reaction was too slow to prevent the shooting. The fact that the shooter succeeded in bringing a gun into the gallery is another example of possible negligence.

It does not seem that the shooting will derail efforts to stabilize Syria. On Tuesday, talks are scheduled to begin in Moscow among Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as others, on a possible diplomatic ending to the ongoing war in Syria.

The interests of these three countries are greater than an isolated incident, even the murder of an ambassador.

Erdogan’s interests in Syria are also limited in their scope – he wants to ensure that a Kurdish entity will not be established along his country’s border.

Putin’s interests are different.

As demonstrated by Russia’s disproportionate bombing of civilian targets – including schools, hospitals and orphanages – in Aleppo, Putin is using the same methods that were effective in quelling the Chechnyan insurgency some 10 years ago.

Together with Iran, Putin wants to stabilize Assad and restore his sovereignty over as much of Syria as possible.

This is just the first stage in Russia’s ultimate goal of establishing itself as a superpower in a region that was left in a vacuum by outgoing US President Barack Obama.