Assassination of Karlov: Turning point in the Middle East?

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Baku, 27 December 2016 –

The assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov has provoked a huge geo-political response and condemnation. It is natural since any country has its diplomats and terror against them is unacceptable. The Turkish diplomacy, for example, has suffered a lot from the Armenian terror. Ankara is more interested than others in investigating the cause of the shooting of ambassador Karlov. The other side of the story is linked to violent geo-political struggle in the Middle East. After the assassination of the ambassador Russian defense minister Sergei Shoygu said Turkey played a key role in the liberation of Aleppo. Meanwhile, a meeting of foreign ministers Lavrov, Cavusoglu and Zarif was hailed as a success. Does it mean that Russia is establishing a new coalition in the Middle East? And what will be its relationship with the US-led international coalition, of which Turkey is also a member.

Assassination of the ambassador: Active herald of Russian-Turkish friendship

Experts unambiguously link the Russian ambassador`s assassination to geo-political situation in the Middle East. The gunman was identified as Mert Altintas, an off-duty police officer, which added a special colour to the case. Experts put forward different versions of who is behind the murder of the Russian ambassador. It is also claimed that he was part of security team of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visits to Konya in 2014 and Bursa in 2015. (see: Büyükelçinin katili Mert Altıntaş, Erdoğan'ın seyahatlerinde görev yaptı / "", 20 December 2016).

It was revealed that Mert Altintas studied at a private school run by FETO terrorist organization. It is also claimed that he was among policemen assigned to ensure security of the Russian ambassador. Mr Altintas was reportedly heard shouting the words similar to the unofficial anthem of Al Nusra. But his poor command of Arabic keeps the theory that it was just a trick alive. However, it is not yet clear whether Mert Altintas was acting alone or executing the instructions of certain organizations.

The Turkish and Russian law enforcement agencies are determined to find out who is behind the assassination of ambassador Karlov. But experts now focus on geo-political traces and possible repercussions of the incident. Several interesting theses have been put forward, with experts linking the murder to some global geo-political aspects, particularly the ambassador`s activity. 

Andrey Karlov is said to be playing a key role in developing relationship between Turkey and Russia. He was one of the key figures mediating the conflict between Ankara and Moscow over the shooting down of a Russian air force jet by the Turkish military. Mr Karlov was reportedly engaged in negotiations with the Syrian opposition. He was held in great respect by Turkish diplomats. President Vladimir Putin was giving him most important instructions. This leads to a conclusion that the Russian ambassador`s activity was irritating certain forces and they wanted to stop him.

Firstly, ambassador Karlov was doing his utmost to elevate Russia`s cooperation with Turkey, the key country in the Middle East, to a strategic level. He well realized that it is impossible to succeed in this region without Turkey. This was evidenced by what happened in Aleppo. And now the Russian defense minister admits that Turkey played its role in evacuation of opposition groups from Aleppo and their transfer to Idlib. Turkey helped separate terror groups from true opposition forces, a goal that Russia and the US have failed to achieve for years. (see: "Есть план по разделу Сирии" / "", 20 December 2016).

Syrian crisis: alternative coalition or new regional geo-political configuration?

Secondly, Andrey Karlov was playing a vital part in ensuring Russia`s state interests in the Middle East, particularly Moscow`s geo-political interests in Syria. His establishing relations with the Syrian opposition groups was a serious signal because if the negotiations were positive, the sides could have achieved the common denominator. But certain forces were against this because they do not want Russia to take the initiative. Therefore, the new cooperation format in the region led by Russia and Turkey is s source of serious concern for these forces because it means the emergence of a new geo-political configuration in the Middle East.    

Thirdly, Moscow was planning to host an Ankara-Moscow-Tehran meeting, which could possibly change the balance of power in the region. Those forces feared that Moscow may have taken the initiative in the diplomatic arena, just like it did in the battlefield. This may have been a serious blow to the tricks that have been played in the Middle East for decades. Aware of this, the Kremlin is trying to entice Turkey. Andrey Karlov was assassinated during a cultural event, which aimed to undermine mutual confidence between Russia and Turkey. But those who stand behind this assassination behaved very thoughtlessly and may be were even late.

The reason is that first and foremost, the incident with the shot down jet taught Turkey and Russia a lesson, the two countries would not have been tricked for the second time. Secondly, the assassination was committed on the eve of a trilateral meeting involving Sergei Lavrov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow. It`s provocation, and it`s as clear as day. Therefore, it was natural that both Russia and Turkey made it clear that they will not let anyone harm their relations. However, the incident is a clear signal that Moscow and Ankara should be careful about their actions.

Although undermining the Moscow meeting may have not been the primary goal of those who ordered the assassination of the ambassador, they gave a clear warning that they can hit any blow at any time. Interestingly, despite warnings Russia and Turkey are determined to continue their cooperation, which is evidenced by the Moscow meeting.

Russia, Turkey and Iran made a joint statement on Syria, and declared that they will cooperate to ensure a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle East country. Russian experts say cooperation in Syria does not mean that Turkey`s and Russian`s interests completely coincide. Senior fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Irina Zvyagelskaya says: "Certainly, the interests of Moscow and Ankara do not coincide in Syria.” (see: previous source). But the two countries can work together to find a peaceful solution to the problem in their best interests, she added. It is also claimed that the sides agreed to divide Syria into spheres of influence. (see: previous source).

The north of Syria will probably be controlled by Turkey, while Russia will control the military infrastructure and Iran ensure the access of the pro-Shia Syrian government to Hezbollah. Director of St. Petersburg Center for the Study of the Modern Middle East Gumer Isayev believes that Russia, Turkey and Iran have already come to agreement on these issues (see: previous source).

However experts rule out the possibility of complete settlement of the Syrian crisis through Moscow-Ankara-Tehran cooperation because there are other super powers which have their own interests, including the US, European countries, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The outcome of the situation still remains quite uncertain.

The most interesting for now is whether the Moscow meeting will or will not change the balance of power in the Middle East under new terms. It`s too early to make conclusions, but what we have is that Moscow has made a serious diplomatic step in the Middle East. A little while earlier, Russia was backed only by Iran. But now the three countries, including Turkey, sign a tactically and strategically important document. This is a crucial step forward. Is this what leading Western political analysts describe as the emergence of a new geo-political balance of power? It will largely depend on the West`s retaliation. But further escalation of tension should not be ruled out. Only time will tell.

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