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Ambassador’s murder will not change Russian policy

The murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara has provoked statements from Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan.

In his statement President Putin made it clear what he thinks was the intention behind the murder

This crime is undeniably a provocation aimed at derailing the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and the peace process in Syria, which is actively promoted by Russia, Turkey, Iran and other countries interested in the settlement of the internal conflict in Syria.

In his comments President Erdogan said the following

I believe this is an attack on Turkey, the Turkish state and the Turkish people, and also a clear provocation to Turkish-Russian relations. I am sure our Russian friends also see this fact.

In other words, both leaders are interpreting the attack as an attempt to drive their two countries further apart, and to jeopardise the moves they are jointly taking towards establishing peace in Syria.  Though one should not discount the possibility that the assassin was acting on his own – driven by an emotional response to the defeat of the Jihadists in Aleppo – it is more likely that the immediate objective was to stop the tripartite meeting of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers, which has been under discussion since the Syrian army’s recapture of eastern Aleppo, and which is intended to pave the way for the peace conference that Russian President Putin proposes should take place under Russian and Turkish co-sponsorship in the Kazakh capital Astana.

President Putin’s and President Erdogan’s comments show that they have no intention of letting the Russian ambassador’s murder derail this process.  Indeed if the assassination was indeed arranged with that purpose, then whoever is behind it has entirely misunderstood the single minded way the Russians in particular conduct their foreign policy.  On the contrary, instead of the assassination diverting them from the course they have chosen, they are more likely to try to exploit it to increase their leverage on Erdogan and the Turks so that they can advance their objective of convening a peace conference in Astana further.

Already there is confirmation of this following a meeting today between Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Cavetoglu at which Lavrov is reported to have made the following comments

I expect some agreements to be reached at our meeting as well as at the upcoming trilateral meeting, that would promote the process of settling the Syrian crisis and create favourable conditions for political negotiations and humanitarian aid deliveries at the same time ensuring zero tolerance towards terrorists.

(bold italics added)

In other words, the Russians are using the assassination to put pressure on the Turks to dissociate themselves from the Jihadi groups with which they have been associating (“zero tolerance towards terrorists”) whilst advancing their objective of convening the proposed peace conference in Astana (“creating favourable conditions for political negotiations”).

Whether Erdogan and the Turkish government are amenable to this sort of pressure is another matter.  Whilst Erdogan undoubtedly does want good relations with Russia, he has so far proved highly unwilling to sacrifice his support for the Jihadis in Syria to achieve it.

Erdogan must also worry that should he now take steps to dissociate himself from the Jihadis, this might provoke a violent response from them. With Turkey already the subject of a violent terrorist campaign on its territory organised by ISIS, and without thousands of armed Jihadis already in Turkey – the result of Erdogan’s previously willingness to allow Turkish territory to be used as the way-station for Jihadis travelling to Syria – this must be for him a very serious worry.

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