Five Scenarios Regarding the Assassination of Ambassador Karlov in Ankara
The tragic event in Ankara, in which the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to Turkey, 62 year old Andrey Karlov, was assassinated by a lone gunman during an art exhibit, has raised numerous suspicions, some of which have been aired on the global media stage.
Ambassador Karlov was shot on November 19, just one day before the meeting of the Iran-Russia-Turkey trilateral discussion group, whose stated goal is a workable Syrian peace plan. The event has been delayed indefinitely, which has raised suspicions regarding the context of the assassination.
At the same time, the subdued reaction and response time of the authorities, as well as the lack of protection given to a foreign potentate in the current geopolitical circumstances which made him a high value target represent substantial mistakes which should be taken into account when identifying the main scenarios for the interests leading to the assassination of Amb. Karlov.
The grim “spectacle” of a 22 year old policeman gunning down the Ambassador and strutting on the stage afforded by a modern, anti-septic art gallery, like a living piece of modern installation art, was aired live by the multiple TV stations present during the Ambassador’s speech.
"Don't forget Aleppo" were the first words out of the attacker’s mouth as he approached his victim’s body, followed by a message in Arabic: "We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad."
The investigation is ongoing, with no clear verdict emerging, despite the haste with which the higher echelons of the Turkish authorities have bandied about accusations. The truth may never be publicly known or acknowledged, but we should advance a number of scenarios for the assassination that pass a few classic criteria for verisimilitude, such as motive and opportunity.
1. A terrorist attack.
We cannot exclude the possibility that the terrorist may have been affiliated with Daesh (the pejorative Arabic term for the Islamic State) or Al Qaeda, or simply shared their ideological convictions, moving him to act without coordination or explicit ties with these organizations. We should not rule out the possibility that the attacker may have been mentally disturbed, suffering also from post-traumatic stress issues, though this possibility does not contradict the prior assessment as much as complement it. Many would-be terrorists suffer from important mental pathologies. While Jabhat al-Sham, formerly known as the Al Nusra Front, which was an evolution of Al Qaeda in Syria, has claimed the attack, the current roster of evidence precludes any sort of certainty regarding who masterminded the attack.
Irrespective of cause, it is clear that the Turkish intelligence organizations and their structures are extremely vulnerable, with many security breaches appearing after President Erdogan’s massive purge of 5,000 security personnel subsequent to the failed coup. While claiming to be covering up other important vulnerabilities and breaches, this sort of purge is very traumatic for the organizations thus afflicted and will certainly have consequences down the line in terms of efficiency.
2. Internal sabotage
The Erdogan regime is not fully consolidated internally even after the initial purges, which has been acknowledged repeatedly by the leadership in Ankara as it motivated further societal disruptions and cracked down on all manner of dissidents. The Mayor of Ankara himself gave a press conference where he named the Fethullah Gullen movement as the mastermind behind the attacks and added the downing of the Russian fighter plane in November 2015 to its roster, for good measure. The interpretation here is an ongoing attempt to alienate Ankara and Moscow and ultimately undermine President Erdogan, whose cooperation with Russia is a linchpin not just for Turkish economic health, but also for its complicated geopolitical games in an unstable neighborhood.
Whether the Gullen movement is behind the assassination or not, strong internal opposition makes Turkey an unpredictable actor and adds powerful constraints to its ability to pursue its geopolitical ambitions in the region.
3. Western involvement
A number of politicians in Ankara and Moscow have tried to deflect the strain that such an incident would place on Russian-Turkish cooperation by accusing the West of undermining Russian-Turkish cooperation to weaken the Russian agenda in Syria. Focusing on an external enemy is a good way to maintain an important partnership which suffers from internal fractures and potential conflicts of interests. The stake for the West would be the disruption of the emerging consensus among Iran and Turkey of the feasibility and desirability of a Russian led peace plan.
4. A common Russia-Turkey action
Unlikely though it may be, especially given limited trust and considerable reserve of decision makers along the Ankara-Moscow axis, we should not exclude the scenario where elements within both countries launched a false flag operation to justify future military actions and a surge in efforts and ferocity to eliminate the Jihadist threat and its capacity for terrorist acts.
5. An assassination planned in Ankara
We should not exclude the possibility that leadership of Turkey itself could be behind the assassination, which has given it license to incriminate its domestic opposition and especially the Gullen movement, as well as attempt to undermine the widespread sympathy for the movement in the West and the Russian Federation for its perceived moderation and commitment to secular education, such as in the STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math). Ankara has been repeatedly accused of supporting Jihadist groups in Syria and fomenting further instability for its own goals, which include the fall of the Assad regime in Damascus. Ties with the Al Nusra Front have been highlighted since 2014, when American publications revealed that Erdogan allegedly made an explicit claim of support for the group in private talks with multiple religious leaders in Turkey, With this in mind, the rapid killing of the gunman, rather than attempting to capture him alive and interrogate him for information, is put in a more sinister light, which only a successful investigation can dispel.
In conclusion, the assassination of Amb. Andrey Karlov is not simply the killing of a high profile target for terroristic value, but also a raising of the geopolitical stakes in the region. The entire puzzle may never be revealed and the suggested scenarios are just a sample of the possibilities, with the reality likely involving a mixture of these ideas and other consideration of which we are only marginally aware.