A Russian commentator has posted this laconic comment on the murder of Ambassador Karlov by yet another exponent of the religion of peace.
That was the briefest but far from only parallel drawn by various observers between the assassination of Ambassador Karlov and that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914. Since the earlier event set off the First World War, the implication is sinister: there may be war.
But between whom and whom? Will Russia incinerate Istanbul the same way it flattened Aleppo, children’s playgrounds and all?
Such a response wouldn’t be without precedent. One of Putin’s spiritual forebears, Genghis Khan, would wipe out the entire population of a city where his envoys had been harmed. He himself never killed other countries’ ambassadors.
Even such voracious murderers as Stalin and Hitler didn’t count any ambassadors among their victims. After Hitler’s ambassador Count Schulenburg declared war on the Soviet Union, Stalin sent him back to Germany, where the privilege of killing Schulenburg was exercised by Hitler himself in 1944.
It’s also true that, regardless of who pulled the trigger, the host country is at least partly to blame for the murder of a diplomat. Hence, should Putin choose to treat the crime as a casus belli, he’d have some justification. But why should he choose to?
Putin’s official bogeyman isn’t Turkey but the West, especially the US. Whether that designation will survive President Trump’s inauguration remains to be seen, but that’s how things are at the moment.
True, as a NATO member, Erdoğan’s Turkey may be regarded as tangentially a Western country. Moreover, a year ago it committed a hostile act by downing a Russian SU-24.
However, since then Russia’s policy towards Turkey has been that of rapprochement, clearly aimed at splitting NATO and weakening its southern flank. That policy is consistent with the Russian strategy of sowing discord among Western countries, thereby creating troubled waters in which the KGB junta could profitably fish.
The first noises coming out of Russia suggest that the policy hasn’t changed, and Putin is trying to shoehorn the murder into the overall strategic pattern.
Within hours of the assassination Russia’s senator Klintsevich opined that “…it is highly likely that representatives of foreign NATO secret services are behind it. What has happened is a true provocation, a challenge.”
“They did not shoot at Karlov. They shot at Russia,” echoed Senator Kosachev. He didn’t specify who ‘they’ were, but contextually it could only be the dastardly NATO members.
Russian foreign minister Lavrov clarified for those slow on the uptake. Whoever was behind the murder, he explained, intended to “undermine” the normalisation of relations between Moscow and Ankara. According to Lavrov, that was the conclusion reached by Putin and Erdoğan in their telephone conversation.
Putin was quick to confirm: “The crime that was committed is without doubt a provocation aimed at disrupting the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and disrupting the peace process in Syria that is being actively advanced by Russia, Turkey and Iran.”
Evidently said normalisation isn’t being disrupted by Turkey’s support for the Sunni cannibals wishing to eviscerate Assad, whereas Putin doesn’t care how many children he must bomb to keep Assad in power. Obviously a higher purpose trumps temporary divergences.
Should we apply the ancient Cui Bono? principle, NATO would be exculpated this side of Putin’s frenzied propaganda. Yet both Erdoğan and Putin have something to gain.
Erdoğan is already blaming his major opponent, the exiled cleric Gulen. The cleric is screaming his innocence, but Erdoğan can use this pretext to round up those dissidents who miraculously are still at large after the failed July coup.
Putin’s possible benefits are far greater, even apart from laying the blame on NATO. For Moscow, Ankara and Tehran are indeed negotiating to broker some deal over Syria. And Moscow’s position has been weakened by the brutality of its indiscriminate carpet bombing of Aleppo.
Putin is being seen by many as a war criminal, a reputation he has been studiously fostering throughout his reign. Now he can shift that perception by positioning himself as a victim, one who has paid for his place at the table with Karlov’s blood.
Does this mean that either Erdoğan or Putin might have underwritten the assassination? I wouldn’t put this past either gentleman, knowing their moral fibre and track record.
The circumstances of the murder add weight to such speculations. Neither the Russians nor the Turks provided any security worthy of the name. Yet a government bombing Aleppo children must expect that some grown-ups would want to kill its diplomats.
However, the murderer managed not only to pump eight rounds into Karlov’s back but also to deliver a speech compromising the widely held belief that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. Only then did the police engage him, with nary a trained security officer within sight.
Yes, a conspiracy is possible. But the most obvious explanation of the assassination is the one visible on the surface.
After Aleppo, Russia acquired 1.5 billion Sunni enemies braying for the Russians’ blood. About 65 million of them live in Turkey and it couldn’t have been unduly hard to find one ready and able to do the deed.
One way or the other, political assassination always heightens international tensions, with unpredictable consequences. Today’s situation is particularly fraught, with Russia’s bellicose hysteria at its most febrile.
The other day Russian MP Vyachelslav Nikonov, named after his Grandpa Molotov, pronounced off the Duma pulpit that “the free world has acquired a new leader, which is Russia.” Why? Because “Russia is the world’s only country that can annihilate America ten times over.”
The atmosphere is electrically charged, but one hopes that the parallel between Karlov and the Archduke will remain a fantasy. Anything else is too horrific to fathom.