The murder of Russia’s envoy weakens Turkey’s hand

The murder of Russia’s envoy weakens Turkey’s hand

The murder of an ambassador is a serious matter in international affairs. Such events can lead to war given the convergence of the right set of circumstances. Imagine how serious the situation would have been if the cold-blooded murder of Ambassador Andrey Karlov had taken place before Ankara and Moscow reconciled, after the affair of the downing of the Russian jet by Turkey in 2015.

Turkey would be bracing for some kind of retaliation from a Russia already angry over the jet incident in which its pilot was killed. Fortunately, the two countries made up in the meantime, enabling them to agree that the murder of the ambassador was a provocation designed to undermine their ties.

This does not mean, however, that a potential crisis is still not possible if the sides fail to manage this situation properly. Russia will obviously not accept quick and ready answers from Turkey as to who is behind the murder. 

The pro-government media has already found the guilty party. The government also appears inclined to blame followers of Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the failed coup attempt on July 15. That may or may not be the case. 

What is apparent though is that Moscow will not allow the Turkish government to take the easy way out by blaming the murder on its current nemesis, and trying to capitalize on this to secure political advantages domestically. 

No doubt this is also why it insisted from the first moment that the matter should be investigated jointly. Moscow is clearly demanding complete transparency and cooperation from Ankara, even if the findings pose an embarrassment for the government. 

The murder of Ambassador Karlov has also weakened Ankara’s hand in Syria further. Bashar al-Assad is no doubt among those who are pleased over this turn of events. The result of Tuesday’s trilateral summit in Moscow among the foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran – which was held under the shadow of this murder – shows why he must be happy. 

Turkey effectively declared its former Syria policy – which never led to anything anyway – dead at the summit. It now accepts that the toppling of al-Assad is not part of its agenda in Syria. Neither was much, if anything, said after the summit about Ankara’s greatest concern in Syria, namely Kurdish aspirations. 

Turkey accepted, however, that fighting Islamic terrorist groups will be the priority as the search for a settlement to the Syria conflict continues under Russia’s auspices. Put bluntly, Ankara has surrendered the initiative in Syria to Moscow, to which it is beholden even more now after the brutal murder of Ambassador Karlov.

This is the price Ankara has to pay for trying to counterbalance its deteriorating ties with its traditional allies by seeking strategic ties with Russia and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), even if there is ultimately little strategic logic to this.

This is also the price the government has to pay for continuing to undermine Turkey’s democracy. The reason why Turkey’s ties with the West are so bad is because the agenda of those ruling Turkey does not comply with Western democratic principles. 

By cozying up to Russia and China, Ankara wants to show the United States and the European Union that it has other options which do not come with strings attached regarding democracy and human rights. Whatever political advantages this may secure for Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at home, it is clear that it is also resulting in a loss of influence for Turkey internationally.

The murder of the Russian ambassador also compounds the impression of a Turkey sliding increasingly into chaos. Yet it remains an open question as to whether those presently ruling Turkey are able to raise their heads from the obsessive manner in which they are pursuing their political ambitions in order to see that the country is not heading in a good direction.