NEW DELHI: The Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated by a Turkish gunman on Monday, Dec. 20, while he was speaking at a photo exhibition in Ankara called “Russia as seen by Turks.”

The killer was later identified as Melvut Mert Aydintas, 22, a member of the Ankara riot police. He had recently been fired, following an anti-Gulenist crackdown by Erdogan.

While Karlov was delivering a speech, he was shot from behind by Aydintas, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots. He then shouted in Turkish:

“Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here.Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay the price.”

He also shouted in Arabic: “We are the one who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage Jihad.”

Turkish special forces soon surrounded the art gallery and killed the gunman. Three other people were wounded.

Reacting to the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin said:

“This murder is clearly a provocation aimed at undermining the improvement and normalization of Russian-Turkish relations, as well as undermining the peace process in Syria promoted by Russia, Turkey, Iran and other countries interested in settling the conflict in Syria.”

The “only response” to the attack that Russia “should offer” is “stepping up the fight against terrorism. The killers will feel it. We have to know who organized this killing and gave orders to the assassin,” Putin said.

He also spoke on the phone to Turkish President Erdogan, who described the shooting as a provocation, aimed at destroying bilateral ties. He “strongly” and “vehemently” condemned the assassination of Ambassador Karlov.

Erdogan also said a Joint Commission with Russia would be established to investigate the murder.

Russia’s Investigative Committee has already launched an investigation into the killing, and Turkey is cooperating. Security around Russian diplomatic missions has been tightened all over the world.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Relations Committee in Russia’s upper house of Parliament, said the repercussions of the killing of Ambassador Karlov would depend on the details of the incident. He said:

“It could have been a planned terrorist attack by extremists or it could be the work of a lone maniac. After we know, we’ll be able to understand how this will affect Russian-Turkish relations.”

Kosachev’s counterpart in the lower house, Alexei Pushkov, said Karlov’s death was “a result of political and media hysteria around Aleppo sown by the enemies of Russia.”

Other world leaders condemned the assassination of Ambassador Karlov. They include US Secretary of State John Kerry, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the German Interior Minister, and French President Hollande, who “strongly” condemned the killing.

Significantly, the US President-elect, Donald Trump, said in a statement:

“Today we offer our condolences to the family and loved ones of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist. The murder of an ambassador is a violation of all rules of civilized order and must be universally condemned.”

There was no word from Obama or any European Head of State except France.

The murder of Ambassador Karlov happened a day after protests in Turkey over Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Many Turks have been angered by Russian actions in Syria. In recent days, protests in Istanbul against Russian involvement in Syria and Aleppo, including a demonstration in front of the Russian Consulate, have occurred regularly.

The protests have often had a significant Islamist element.

However, despite the protests, at the political level the Turkish and Russian governments, along with the Iranians, have been cooperating regarding the evacuation of terrorists and civilians in east Aleppo.

It is known that the evacuation deal in Aleppo was engineered by Russia and Iran, with Turkey acting as the broker for the Jihadi groups.

In fact, before the assassination took place on Monday, a meeting of the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian foreign ministers had been planned for Tuesday, Dec. 21, in Moscow.

There was nobody from the West or the Gulf directly involved in the negotiations.

In the weeks before the liberation of Aleppo, the Russians, Iranians, and the Turks had increasingly been working together on Syria’s future, to the exclusion of Western powers, including the US, as well as the Gulf. They are the main backers of the terrorist and Jihadi groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria for more than five years.

Putin has taken the lead in working out a settlement in Syria by proposing wider Syrian peace talks at a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to be attended by Russia, Turkey, and Iran on December 27. He reportedly wants to forge a Russian, Iranian, and Turkish axis before Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 next year.

Again, the West and Gulf are excluded from the talks.

Interestingly, several well-known and credible sources, as will as the Syrian Ambassador to the UN, have reported that during the recent evacuation of terrorist and Jihadi groups from eastern Aleppo, at least fourteen US-led coalition military intelligence officers were captured by Syrian Special Forces in a bunker on Dec. 16. The names and nationalities of these “military advisors” have also been published.

They include the US, Israeli, French, British, Turkish, Saudi, Moroccan, and Qatari nationals, who are currently in Syrian custody. Reports also state that the UN Security Council met in private on the same day, Dec. 16, in the evening, after the capture of the foreign military advisors in Aleppo.

This is the background of the scenario in which Ambassador Karlov was murdered.

Important questions arise, the answers to which may indicate why a Turkish national killed a Russian ambassador over issues relating to Aleppo and Syria.

After all, Aleppo is not a part of Turkey, though Erdogan joined the “regime change” operation against Assad in March 2011 in the hope of making it [and Mosul], a part of his country.

That prompted some observers to suggest that he was trying to revive the Ottoman Empire, and to call him “Sultan Erdogan.”

Significantly, hundreds, if not thousands, of Turkish troops are currently on the ground near Aleppo and Mosul.

If, how, and when these forces will depart Syria and Iraq is not clear. The endgame in Syria has not even begun, and Erdogan could still be playing all sides, as he has often done in the past. We don’t know.

What we do know, however, is that in the last few years, Turkey has been radicalized by Erdogan’s Syria adventure. Turkey has provided the staging areas from which the ISIS, Nusra Front, and other Jihadi groups have been infiltrated into Syria to topple Assad.

The corporate-owned Western mainstream media has played a major role in whipping up hysteria and frenzy against President Assad by spreading falsehoods and lies about him, the Syrian Army, and the Russians.

Outfits such as the “White Helmets,” set up by them to conduct information warfare against Assad, have been used by them as part of psyops. Fortunately, several independent sources on the internet have exposed their designs.

Turkey has been the conduit through which Jihadi fighters and weapons have flowed into Syria. The journalist Seymour Hersh has called it a “rat line.”

Thousands of foreign fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world, and also Europe, have entered Syria through the “rat line” in Turkey, which has played a pivotal role in trying to topple Assad.

In fact, Erdogan’s son was accused of involvement in the lucrative smuggling of Syrian oil by ISIS to Turkey, from where it was reportedly sold in international markets with Israeli help.

This went on for quite some time till Russia put a stop to it by bombing the ISIS-Turkey supply line from Oct. 2015 onwards.

Then Erdogan’s air force shot down a Russian fighter plane in Syrian airspace in Nov. 2015, killing one Russian pilot. Russia imposed economic sanctions against Turkey, seriously hurting its tourism and agricultural exports. Bilateral relations nosedived.

Sometime at the beginning of 2016 Erdogan realized that his Syrian adventure was failing. Then there was a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016 which nearly succeeded. Erdogan narrowly escaped death. He blamed the US for being behind the coup.

That was the tipping point. Erdogan realized his Syria adventure had failed and he had been used and discarded by the US and EU. To cut his losses, he apologized to Putin for killing the Russian pilot, offered compensation, and paid a visit to Moscow last August.

The visit, however, did not settle the Syrian question, because Erdogan was still playing all sides [as he could still be doing!]. In August 2016, his army crossed the border into northern Syria ostensibly to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing a Kurdish statelet.

But Aleppo continued to be one of his objectives. Erdogan’s army is still not far from the city.

The Russians and the Syrians, however, made steady military progress in east Aleppo in the last four weeks, after Putin ordered intensive strikes against the Jihadi groups on Nov. 15. A day before that he had spoken on the phone to President-elect Donald Trump.

Erdogan finally realized that his Aleppo dream was over, and began coordinating with Russia and Iran to get his Jihadi fighters out of eastern Aleppo.

Reliable reports also suggest that he was acting on behalf of the US and other NATO allies to rescue their “military advisors,” mentioned above, from Aleppo, from where they were “guiding" the Nusra Front and other Jihadi groups.

Unfortunately, some of them are reportedly in Syrian custody at present.

The killing of Ambassador Karlov could possibly reflect Western anger and retaliation over the military defeat suffered by them in Aleppo on Dec. 15.

These powers had gotten used to having their way since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. This is their first clear military defeat after a string of regime changes in the then Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Yemen, where a very destructive war supported by them is still going on.

It could also be the result of radicalization of Turkish youth, as mentioned above. Hobnobbing with, and supporting, ISIS, Nusra Front, and other Jihadi groups, could have led to radicalization. It has happened in Pakistan.

Turkey has become the Pakistan of Central Asia, courtesy Erdogan. In the last one-year several bomb attacks have taken place in the country, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. ISIS and other Jihadi groups are believed to be behind them.

The destabilization of Turkey is one of the major outcomes of the West-Gulf regime change project in Syria. It will have ripple effects in the region and beyond.

But Erdogan has only himself to blame for Turkey’s current predicament. Today, he finds himself isolated, shunned by the US and EU, his former backers.

They are deeply offended that Aleppo has gone out of their hands, Assad is still around, the Russians are expanding their presence in Syria, and they are looking increasingly stupid to the rest of the world.

But it would be a folly to think that they have given up their efforts to topple Assad. They never learn. The ISIS attack on Palmyra and the murder of the Russian ambassador are signals that their Syria project is not yet over. Their occurrence within days of each other may not be a coincidence.

The “Izvestia” newspaper has reported, citing a statement of UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon, that 20 British military instructors have already arrived in Syria to “restore the combat capability of units of the ‘moderate opposition’ which has retreated from Aleppo.”

These British instructors will supposedly train the forces involved in the fight against ISIS. Can things get more comical than that?

Except that they are not comical, because this—fighting ISIS— will be the new excuse for Western military operations in Syria, aimed at carving out a Salafi state in eastern Syria, including cities such as Raqqa and Deir ez Zore, currently occupied by ISIS.

The game plan of the West and Gulf is to constantly harass and blackmail the Assad regime if they cannot overthrow it.

These are desperate and annoying moves. It is not clear if they will reverse or change the course of events in Syria. But they will definitely add more inflammable material to the country, so that the next explosion there or elsewhere will be even bigger.

The Russians will not take the murder of Ambassador Karlov lying down. Putin will do his best to find out if it was the act of a lone gunman or part of a state-sponsored operation.

And if it is the latter, there will be consequences. Putin has said so. And he is not in the habit of bluffing.

(Ambassador Niraj Srivastava has retired from the Indian Foreign Service. He served in several nations including Syria)