Remembering slain Russian envoy on 4th anniversary
Four years ago today, on Dec. 19, both Turkey and Russia, as well as all diplomatic communities, were shocked by the news of the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov.
Karlov was killed by a gunman during the opening of a photo exhibition in downtown Ankara in front of TV cameras and photographers. An indictment penned by Turkish prosecutors blamed FETÖ for the assassination and cited that the motive of the group was to break off ties between Turkey and Russia.
The murder came only six months after Turkey and Russia reconciled ties after the former apologized for the downing of a Russian fighter jet with a Turkish F-16 along the Turkish-Syria border in November 2015.
Karlov, who was appointed to Turkey in 2013, had to deal with many tough issues, both bilaterally and regionally, including the impacts of the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Syria. But, no doubt, the downing of the Russian fighter jet and its aftermath impacts on bilateral dialogue were the hardest among all the rest.
In those difficult days, Karlov played a very important and constructive role by keeping the communication channels open and creating a solid basis to mend ties.
I still remember our frank, insightful and honest conversations with the late Ambassador Karlov during his tenure in Ankara, even particularly in the aftermath of the November 2015 incident. He was a modest, gentle, and good-humored diplomat and I commemorate him with full respect.
Those who wanted to disrupt the Turkish-Russian relations by cruelly killing Karlov have obviously failed. Four years later, today, there is still a very strong dialogue and cooperation between the two countries at the bilateral and regional levels.
That does not mean that Turkey and Russia have a broad agreement on the regional issues, as Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed at a year-end press conference on Dec. 18. “We have disagreements with [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan on certain issues. We sometimes happen to be on the opposite point of views,” he briefly said, while hailing Erdoğan as a man of his word.
It’s true that there is a strong bond between Putin and Erdoğan, but this relationship also has institutional backing with positive impacts on the economy, trade, tourism and other bilateral matters.
Plus, as seen in both Nagorno-Karabakh and the Syria conflicts, cooperation between Turkey and Russia on regional matters is needed. For example, there are a few countries that refuse to admit Turkey’s success in endorsing Azerbaijan’s liberation of its territories from the three-decade Armenian occupation. Turkey and Russia will jointly monitor the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, making the former a part of the new status quo in the region.
Those who want to analyze Turkish-Russian ties should realize the changing nature of the Turkish foreign policy towards a more independent line in recent years. Today’s foreign policy of Turkey does not hesitate to confront its NATO partners and EU members although it says it sees its future in Europe. This independence has already cost Turkey through sanctions by the United States and European Union and tarnished its image among the Western public opinion.
The period ahead will not be free of risks, either. A new era will be launched as the Biden administration will take office late January 2020 and Turkey will have to make certain calculations about the consequences of its unilateral actions in the neighborhood.
These calculations will not only determine its place and weight within the Western alliance but also the quality and the nature of the Turkish-Russian partnership. A balance between Turkey’s strategic interests and tactical moves will require a meticulous art of diplomacy, but also a complete political will.