Friday 23 August 2019

Russia and Turkey insist murder of ambassador 'will not hamper' alliance

Marina Karlova, widow of late Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, in front of his coffin at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Marina Karlova, widow of late Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, in front of his coffin at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Roland Oliphant

A team of Russian investigators and intelligence officers arrived in Turkey yesterday as both countries vowed that the murder of Moscow's ambassador to Ankara would not undermine a fragile alliance between them.

Officials in Moscow and Ankara blamed the attack on "terrorists" seeking to sabotage bilateral relations and efforts to make peace in Syria.

The late Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
The late Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

"It benefits those who want to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey" and undermine joint efforts to find a settlement in Syria, said Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, said in a speech in Istanbul that he and Mr Putin agreed in a telephone call after the murder that "our expanding areas of co-operation with Russia, particularly on Syria, will not be hampered by this attack".

Russia and Turkey have clashed repeatedly over the war in Syria, in which they support opposing sides, but in recent weeks they have worked closely on arranging evacuations from rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Andrey Karlov (62) was shot in the back at least eight times as he delivered a speech at the opening of an exhibition sponsored by the Russian embassy on Monday evening. His attacker, Melvut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old policeman, shouted "Allahu Akbar" and "remember Aleppo" as he opened fire. Altintas was shot dead by police 15 minutes later.

Turkey's foreign minister yesterday told John Kerry, the US secretary of state, that Ankara and Moscow believe followers of Fethullah Gulen, an anti-Erdogan cleric based in the US, were behind the killing, ministry sources told Reuters news agency.

Ankara has also accused Mr Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup in July, a charge the cleric denies. Mr Erdogan said: "We have started to work out the links," but did not elaborate. No group has claimed responsibility for Mr Karlov's murder.

Mr Gulen issued a statement condemning the killing as a "heinous crime".

Experts have cast doubt on the link to Mr Gulen, saying it was more likely that the gunman was acting out of anger at Russia's involvement in the war in Syria.

Mevlut Mert Altintas holds up a gun after shooting Mr Karlov. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Mevlut Mert Altintas holds up a gun after shooting Mr Karlov. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The killing comes at a time of deep anger among religious and socially conservative grassroots supporters of Mr Erdogan's Law and Justice Party over the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

While the government has largely refrained from criticising Moscow's actions in Aleppo, protesters had gathered on a near daily basis outside Russian diplomatic missions in Istanbul and Ankara in the week preceding the attack.

Eighteen officials from Russia's foreign ministry, investigative committee and intelligence agencies landed in Ankara early yesterday after Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan agreed on a joint probe into the murder.

The Russians joined a Turkish police team who have so far detained seven people in connection with the killing.

Suspects currently in custody include Altintas's parents, sister and three other relatives from his home town in Aydin province. In Ankara, police arrested the policeman's flatmate.

Mr Karlov's body was flown back to Russia with ceremonial honours yesterday. His wife Marina, who held two red carnations, wept as her husband's flag-draped coffin was carried by a Turkish honour guard to a Russian aircraft at Ankara airport.

Tugrul Turkes, a deputy prime minister of Turkey, said at the ceremony that Mr Karlov had "become the eternal symbol of Turkish-Russian friendship".

Turkish authorities separately promised to rename the road where the Russian embassy is in Ankara "Karlov Street". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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