The Cable

The U.S. Likely to Be “One of the Biggest Losers” of Ambassador Assassination

One Turkey expert's take on what the ambassador's assassination might mean for the future of U.S. relations with Russia and Turkey.


On Tuesday, the day after Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was shot dead at an art exhibit in Ankara, some Turkish and Russian publications and politicians were blaming not each other, but the United States.

While the assassin’s aim may have been to create tension between Russia and Turkey, “I think the United States is likely to be one of the bigger losers coming out of this,” Amanda Sloat, who, until May of this year, was deputy assistant secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs at the U.S. State Department, told Foreign Policy.

There are two main points of tension between United States and Turkey. One is Syria, where Washington supports Kurdish forces despite Ankara’s antipathy toward the YPG. The other is Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania — and whom Turkey has blamed for the failed coup in July earlier this year and wants to extradite. Turkey has also already blamed the assassination on Gulenists. (Gulen, for his part, has reportedly condemned the assassination.)

That Turkey is a NATO member will likely not pull Ankara toward the United States — or matter much at all, given that Russia seems highly unlikely to respond militarily against Turkey. Even in November 2015, when a Russian plane was shot down over what Turkey asserted to be Turkish airspace (without, notably, the backing of NATO), Russia responded economically, but not militarily.

And that was in response to anti-Russian action by the government, whereas Russia, in reacting to its ambassador’s assassination, is responding to the actions of one man. The fact that he was a police officer, Sloat said, could suggest some politicization of state institutions, though she stressed it was too early to know if that is indeed the case.

It is also too soon to speculate as to how the United States could change its policy toward Turkey. Sloat noted that much will depend on how the incoming administration decides to respond; U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, for his part, issued a statement calling the killer “a radical Islamic terrorist.”

But for now, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara has closed its doors after a gunman opened fire nearby just hours after the assassination.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusgolu went to Moscow for talks with Russia and Iran on Syria as planned; Russia has sent over a dozen investigators to look into who killed its ambassador. And Turkey and Russia will, in all likelihood, cooperate as stated for the investigation.

The two countries are, at present, “getting exactly what they need from each other in Syria,” Sloat explained, “and I suspect that will be the predominant theme in their relationship at the moment. Neither will allow yesterday’s incident to undermine what they’re trying to achieve in Syria.”

Update, Dec. 20 3:42 PM: This post was updated to reflect that Fetullah Gulen reportedly condemned the assassination.

Photo credit: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

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