Despite assassination, Turkey and Russia must stay the course on Syria
The murder of Moscow’s envoy to Ankara should not be allowed to deter from wider interests of finding a solution to the civil war in Syria
Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is necessary to finding a solution to the Syria crisis. It is a reality not shared by all in Turkey, as the killing of the Russian ambassador to the country proves. An off-duty policeman gunned down envoy Andrey Karlov in Ankara a day after protests against Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its military involvement in clearing Turkish-backed rebels from the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aimed at harming relations, the assassination has instead fortunately led to the opposite, with pledges by both sides to work even closer.
The killing of the veteran diplomat was condemned at the United Nations and in world capitals, with outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summing up the mood by saying he was appalled by “this senseless act of terror”. Many on social media drew comparisons to the assassination in 1914 of archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose murder helped ignite world war one. But so bleak an assessment is overblown given Russia’s measured response. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contacted his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and both agreed the killing was a provocative act aimed at damaging ties. A joint investigation will be conducted.
Such a calm response would not have been possible a year ago, when relations plunged after a Turkish plane shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border. At the time, the nations were on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war, with Russia supporting Assad with air strikes and Turkey pushing for the leader’s overthrow by backing rebel fighters. But Russian sanctions and a falling out with ally the US over its support of Kurdish opponents prompted Erdogan to rethink his country’s position and adopt a strategy more in line with Putin’s. With ties normalised, the countries agreed on a ceasefire for Aleppo and have organised a new round of Syrian peace talks with Assad’s ally Iran to be held in Kazakhstan later this month.
The US and UN will not be involved in the talks; successive rounds in Geneva have failed to make progress and Donald Trump’s taking of the American presidency next month has caused uncertainty about Washington’s position.
An unofficial deal has been struck; Turkey will drop its support for rebels harming Russia’s interests in Syria and Russia will no longer back Syrian Kurdish groups. Together, they will fight Islamic State extremists. Resolve at such a level comes from the hard reality of circumstances. Neither side can allow Karlov’s killing to jeopardise interests and the push for peace in Syria.