The deadly attack in a Berlin Christmas market and the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, may not be closely connected or plotted by related terrorist circles, but they aim at the same target; to terrify entire populations and block what could lead to a solution in the Syrian mess. Add to that the incomprehensible Zurich Mosque attack and the European terror puzzle is complete.
The political implications of the attacks are already visible. The Turkish riot police member who shot and killed the Russian envoy Andrey Karlov from behind the doesn’t seem to be alone. Turkey and Russia are cooperating more closely than ever not only to investigate the crime, but also to advance what the killer wanted to stop. As for the Berlin massacre, Germany’s open door immigration policy is now under heavy attack.
A more conservative Europe
Chancellor Angela Merkel is hard-pressed from within and without in order to change her immigration policy principles. Important members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Horst Seehofer, the head of Bavarian brother party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) are now demanding profound changes of immigration policy. Understandably, there is disparagement directed against Merkel from the Alternative for Germany group, the right wing Eurosceptic and xenophobic populist party. But let’s take one thing at a time.
Both those horrific incidents in Berlin and Ankara are already affecting the internal political scenery in the two countries and seem to also touch on the wider geostrategic developments in Europe and the Middle East. Despite the self restrained statements of Merkel and the menacing cries of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the truth remains that the perpetrators have managed to change the way things would have evolved without their barbaric intervention. In both cases the murderous acts seem to implicate some dark circles going as far – possibly only ideologically – as the warring factions in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Germany as France
Germany will not be the same after that. As in France, the bloody attacks will have both short and long term implications. France became socially and politically more conservative after the massacres in Bataclan and Nice. The political triumph of the Thatcherite Francois Fillion proves that. He will, most probably, also win the presidential election next spring and will change the course and the global role of his country. In the short term just after the deadly attacks, France became more aggressive in Syria, but this doesn’t mean that this change produced any gains for the pivotal European nation.
No wonder then if Germany also becomes more aggressive in the foreign front and more conservative within. Of course, Berlin is not as closely implicated in Syria as Paris, but it will certainly pursue a more active role there. Internally, the Berlin carnage will surely oblige Merkel to become politically more conservative and affect her openness policy on immigration.
The effects are visible
The atrocious execution of Andrey Karlov, Russia’s key man in Ankara, in cold blood, is a much more complicated affair, both regarding the motives and the repercussions. For one thing, it appears that this top diplomat was a decisive factor for the latest rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow. Until recently, relations between the two countries were frozen, under the influence of the downing of a Russian jet fighter by the Turks. The two countries have been supporting the opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is behind many rebel groups, ranging from the Turkmen fighters and actually reaching the Islamic State.
It seems though, that now Turkey has once more changed her foreign policy analysis and targets, after being left out in the cold by the Americans in the campaigns against the ISIS strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Things became more precarious between Ankara and Washington after last July’s attempted coup in Turkey, with Erdogan accusing the Americans of protecting those behind the mutineers. On top of that, Turkey cannot swallow the US support to the Syrian Kurds, considered by Ankara as terrorists and a national threat Turkey.
Seemingly then, Karlov must have managed to convince Erdogan that Turkey had to side with Russia, in order to get something out of the Syrian inferno. The results of this understanding may be related to fall or the liberation of Aleppo. This was a key victory for Assad’s forces backed by Russia and was made possible with the alleged withdrawal of the Turkish support to the rebels of East Aleppo. What followed was more important. The Turkish government agreed to participate in the Moscow meeting with Russians and Iranians to decide the future of Syria, obviously and ostentatiously leaving the US out. The 22 years old executioner of Karlov cried that he killed him for Allepo and the Sunni cause.
Until recently, both Moscow and Ankara, in separate lines of course, were in close contact with Americans about the Syrian question. Clearly though, at some point both those capitals must have been convinced that the Americans wanted it all. In view of that, Turkey was forced to make a new full u-turn and side with Russia and Iran, the two foreign powers which very effectively opposed Ankara’s plans to overthrow the Syrian President Assad.
Turkey to accept Assad
Actually, Erdogan had made the end of Assad a kind of personal feud. It doesn’t seem so anymore. The Turkish President must have changed course in this issue too, making his country an inconsistent ally not to be trusted by anyone. In any case, Russia happily accepts Erdogan’s change of course not having to make any important concessions for that. To say it plainly, Moscow must have bought Erdogan cheaply, after the Americans were done with him.
For understandable reasons then, the murder of Karlov will not endanger the recently built Russian-Turkish rapprochement, even if it comes up that the killer represents a lot more within the Turkish inner state. The riot policeman most likely belongs to embittered groups of Sunni Muslims, disenchanted with Erdogan and his newly found allies Russia and Iran, sworn foes of the Sunni jihadist cause. Men like the young anti-riot policeman were so far asked to clandestinely back the jihadists and fight the Russian and the Iranians enemies. There may be many like him in the Turkish security complex edifice.
Erdogan’s full u-turn
For this reason, Erdogan’s new policy u-turn may activate more reactions within the police, military and secret service forces. Turkish authorities have already identified that the killer belonged to the followers of the US based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara as the man behind last July’s attempted coup, aimed at ousting Erdogan. Gulen’s network is allegedly controlled and supported by the CIA. Until late 2015 the network functioned alongside the official Turkish establishment in the military, the judiciary, the state machine and the education system. It had a decisive role in Erdogan’s rise and ascendancy in Turkish politics. However for some reason the two men broke their relations and the US started having problems with the Turk leader.
After last July’s coup Erdogan found the opportunity to chase away all the civil servants, judges, armed forces officers and academics related or suspected to belong to the Gulen’s network. Tens of thousands of his followers or suspected supporters of the July coup were evicted or jailed, in a massive cleansing operation. Obviously, though, despite the pogrom against its members, the network is still powerful and can undermine Erdogan’s options. Concerning Turkey’s new foreign policy line, Gulen’s network, for obvious reasons, would oppose the estrangement from the US and the siding with Russia.
Turkey disloyal to the US
In any case, it seems that the Erdogan-Gulen feud is not over. On top of that, Erdogan – under his new foreign policy line – will also face opposition from those Turkish Sunni religious circles related in some ways with Gullen. Until now, they were encouraged to support the Syrian rebels who were fighting Russia and Iran, but not any more. Very probably then, Turkey will be threatened by a new deep internal division. This divide will grow riskier to the measure that the relationship with Moscow and Tehran gains momentum and imposes its will on the future of Syria.
In conclusion, the murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, confirms, in a terrible way, what the European Sting wrote last Monday in its leading article. The relevant passage reads: “As a result, he (Erdogan) is badly cornered, having to make face to the dreadful prospect of the (Syrian) war slowly but surely moving within Turkey”. As for the European traumas, they will very probably continue to hurt for as long as the carnage continues in the Middle- East.