December 19, 2016

CNAS Press Note: The Assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey

On news that Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith and CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Research Associate Rachel Rizzo have written a new Press Note, “The Assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey.”

The full Press Note is below:

On Monday, December 19, Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was shot and killed at close range while making a speech at the opening ceremony of a photo exhibit in Ankara by a man said to be an off-duty Turkish policeman. This senseless attack, which Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova referred to as a “terrorist act,” was apparently motivated by Russia’s role in Syria, and comes one day after protests in Turkey over Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia and Turkey’s bilateral relationship has experienced a series of highs and lows in the last year. In November 2015, a Russian aircraft crossed into Turkish territory and was shot down by the Turkish air force, triggering a string of Russian sanctions against Turkey, the banning of fruit and vegetable imports to Russia from Turkey, and Russian statements expressing concern over Turkey’s military actions in Syria. But in recent months, that bilateral relationship has improved, mostly driven a joint interest in working together in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken over the phone a couple of times in recent weeks in order to work out a ceasefire to evacuate civilians from the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.

But today’s incident brings forth a number of questions. How will this incident affect the Turkish-Russian bilateral relationship going forward? Will Russia see conspiracy in the murder and accuse President Erdogan and his government of direct involvement (and perhaps use it as a bargaining tool)? Could the incident cloud the already dark relations between the United States and Turkey or the United States and Russia?  Will Turkish, Russian, and Iranian officials proceed with their planned meeting on Syria tomorrow?

While the motivation, affiliation, and association of the attacker are still unclear, Russia and Turkey are unlikely to draw the same conclusions from this incident, jeopardizing their work together in Syria and potentially creating more tension between the two countries.

Smith and Rizzo are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at 202-457-9409 or


  • Julianne Smith

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy, where she coedits “Shadow Government.” She is also a senior advisor at WestExec Advisors, an adjunct senio...

  • Rachel Rizzo

    Former Adjunct Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Rachel Rizzo is an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Transatlantic Security Program. Her research focuses on European security, N...