The U.S. State Department says its thoughts and prayers are with the family of Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, who was shot dead at the hands of a gunman while making remarks at an art event in Ankara.
The assassination in Ankara contained a chilling warning for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
MEMORIES of national humiliation and Soviet military failure will surface in Moscow after a brutal political murder in Turkey.
The assassination of a Russian ambassador in an Ankara art gallery will revive those memories of impotence and defeat in Afghanistan 27 years ago.
This time, the quagmire could be Syria, and tough-guy Russian leader Vladimir Putin could have to carry the disgrace.
Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot dead as he opened a photographic show. His killer made clear the murder was linked to Russia’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against rebels.
“Do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria,” said the gunman, who was shot dead by police soon after.
Mevlüt Mert Altintas shouts after shooting the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov at a photo gallery in Ankara. Picture: AP Photo/Burhan OzbiliciSource:AP
In Israel, just a four-hour drive south of Aleppo, the town bombed to rubble by the Russians, security agencies have been trying to identify Putin’s objectives in Syria.
It could be part of the ancient search for a warm-water port; a bid for a base for his air force.
Or it could be an opportunity to establish Russia as the reigning superpower by showing the United States how to take decisive action, and how to stick by allies. If so, it would be a hastening of the decline in the standing of the US in the Middle East.
A second line of analysis is centred on what could send the Russians home.
It could be the uncomfortable possibility of being forced into a partnership with radical Iran, who is aiding extremist Hezbollah militias in the area. Perhaps the odium of the Assad regime itself could become too foul to accommodate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has played a pivotal role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria. Picture: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via APSource:AP
Or it could be that Russia becomes bogged down in a prolonged war with rebels, one it cannot win decisively.
It has happened before.
In December 1979, Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan. In February 1989, its army retreated over the Khyber Pass, mourning 15,000 soldiers killed and 35,000 wounded by the Mujahideen fighters.
Putin would not want to be trapped by that magnitude of failure in Syria, and the Ankara assassination was a top-off he is a long way from victory.
A third issue for security experts is this: What would a Russian retreat leave behind in Syria?
In Afghanistan, it was the US-trained and supplied groups who became Al-Qaeda, the terrorists cursing America.
Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, speaks at a photo exhibition in Ankara moments before a gunman, pictured behind him, opens fire. Picture: AP Photo/Burhan OzbiliciSource:AP
Syria might become part of what is known as the Iranian continuum — a sweeping arc of Tehran and extremist Shia influence reaching to the Turkish border and including Lebanon and Yemen.
That is the fear of Israel and the relatively moderate Sunni Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Egypt.
It already is a possibility.
The Ankara assassination will heighten the prospect if Putin is spooked by a repeat of the deadly Afghanistan quagmire.
The gunman’s death pledge was that threat: “As long as our lands are not safe, you will not be safe.”