December 19, 2016
Secretary of State John Kerry and other western officials condemned the assassination of a Russian diplomat in Turkey, but they’re holding off calling the attack an act of terrorism.
“We certainly couldn’t rule out terrorism as a motive or behind this, wouldn’t rule that out at all at this early stage, but I think it’s really important that rather than jumping to conclusions — particularly those of us who aren’t there and weren’t involved — that we ought to let investigators do their jobs,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.
Russia immediately called the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey an act of terrorism. The shooter shouted about Russia’s involvement in helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s bloody recapturing of Aleppo, which was previously held by U.S.-backed rebels and jihadists.
“Today in Ankara as a result of an attack, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey, Andrey Gennadyevich Karlov, received a wound from which he died,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “We regard this as a terrorist act.”
Kerry and other Western leaders also condemned the shooting, but without drawing that conclusion. “We stand ready to offer assistance to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack, which was also an assault on the right of all diplomats to safely and securely advance and represent their nations around the world,” Kerry said Monday. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg termed it a “heinous attack” in his statement.
President Obama’s team was similarly circumspect, issuing a general condemnation of terrorism without necessarily placing this shooting in that category.
“The United States strongly condemns the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, in Ankara today, which reportedly also left others wounded,” White House national security council spokesman Ned Price said. “This heinous attack on a member of the diplomatic corps is unacceptable, and we stand united with Russia and Turkey in our determination to confront terrorism in all of its forms.”
Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, joined Russia in terming the assassination a “lowly terrorist attack” and vowed not to let the attack damage its relationship with Russia.
Any disagreements over who was responsible for the attack, or how governments ought to respond, could strain the already-fraught U.S. relationship with Russia and Turkey. Russia and the United States share a common enemy in the Islamic State and other jihadists, but Russian President Vladimir Putin used the threat of terrorism as a justification for intervening to prop up Assad’s regime — an intervention that prioritized the destruction of U.S.-backed rebels, rather than the Islamic State.
It could also, paradoxically, help Russian President Vladimir Putin continue his rapprochement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even as Erdogan’s expected intensification of a crackdown on political dissidents in his country could provoke condemnation from the United States.
“The Russians will express their gravest possible concerns, and Erdogan will use this as an excuse to crack down on political enemies as much as possible,” Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, told CNBC.
Kirby also responded to accusations leveled on social media that the United States might have played a role in the attack in order to embarrass Erdogan, who previously blamed the Obama administration for a failed coup attempt against his regime.
“We, as we always have, continue to support the democratically-elected government of Turkey and any suggestion that the United States in any way shape or form would be responsible for this act of murder and assassination,” Kirby said, “flies in the face of the facts.”