Russian ambassador’s assassination: Who could possibly stand behind it?
Monday evening, around 7 o’clock, while the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was attending an exhibition in the capital, a gunman shot at him and shouted: "Do not forget Aleppo... Do not forget Syria." The attacker was later killed. The Ambassador, in critical condition, was soon hospitalized, but within an hour, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared his death.
The incident came at a time when Turkey is normalizing its relations with Russia, following the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Moscow and his meeting with Vladimir Putin last August. Contacts between the two countries have been extensive in the last two months, in particular with regards to Syria.
Who could possibly stand behind the assassination?
ISIS, through the last speech of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, threatened Turkey directly, and vowed that it will become the target of terrorist attacks. The possibility of the shooter’s affiliation to ISIS is not possible given the attacker’s status being a policeman with VIP guarding mission puts him under strict surveillance, making it difficult to recruit him, especially that ISIS has not reached the capacity so far of recruiting high level political or diplomatic figures. Finally, the concept of ISIS in overall attacks is to kill as many people as possible. Although the shooter had the chance to shoot a large number of unarmed journalists, he refrained from doing that. The scenario of ISIS involvement in the assassination is thus ruled out.
Some may point the finger of accusation at PKK-affiliated terrorist groups which conducted many bloody attacks in Turkey, with the most recent one in Istanbul 10 days ago, since good Turkish-Russian relations have a negative impact on Russia’s relations with the Kurdish groups in northern Syria and Qandil mountain in southeast of Turkey. However, the fact that the attacker is not of Kurdish origin and that he showed religious faith in contrast with PKK members who are non-believers eliminate possible links with them. Furthermore, the discovery of any link PKK groups and such an attack would drag them to a direct confrontation with the Russians, especially in Syria. All of the above weaken the possibility of any PKK connection to the assassination.
A third possible scenario is to do with Fethullah Gülen organization. Despite its denial following the attack of any involvement in the assassination of the Russian ambassador, the possibility of its involvement in this attack is big. The statement of the group’s spokesman was clear: "The death of the Russian ambassador, an outrageous terrorist act, shows the deterioration of security in Turkey after the dismissal and imprisonment of members of the security following the coup." It is known that this group had a huge influence inside the state system and investigations proved former liaison of thousands of policemen with it after the failed coup attempt last July. With the leader living in the US and if proved that it is behind the attack, it would certainly be naive to think that it might do this without previous notice and approval of the US intelligence. As we know, America is watching the developments in Turkey-Russia relations with suspicion.
Last but not least come the massacres against unarmed civilians and the killing of children and women in brutal ways by Assad forces with the support of the Russian air force, and various Iranian, Pakistani, Iraqi and Afghan militias, that we are witnessing in Syria. These atrocities have affected every single person having a shred of humanity in his/her heart. The events taking place in Halab (Aleppo) had an enormous effect on the Turkish citizens who demonstrated in thousands in front of the Russian embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul to denounce these crimes, and demand that the Russian government stop the bombing of the people of Halab. The appalling scenes of kids who are coming out from under the rubble may have affected the psyche of the attacker and led him to commit the crime, as a revenge for Halab and its people. This could certainly be one viable possibility.
It is clear that the side that will benefit most from this attack is the Russians themselves. Furthermore, as was evident in the statements from both sides, the Turkish-Russian relations have not been affected negatively by the assassination. The Russians asked for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council calling for the intensification of efforts in the fight against terrorism. This is exactly what Russia wants: to make sure that priority now is for fighting terrorism, not toppling Assad.
Eva J. Koulouriotis is Greek political analyst specialized in Middle East. Twitter: @evacool_f, Facebook: @evakoulouriotis