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ISTANBUL, Turkey - The links of the attacker who gunned down Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in the Turkish capital Ankara on Monday evening will be crucial in determining both the future course of events in Syria and Aleppo, and also Turkish-Russian ties.
Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov was killed by a 22-year-old gunman identified as Mert Altintas, a member of the riot police force for the last two-and-a-half years, as he was attending an art exhibition on Monday evening.
The crucial element will be whether the gunman was acting as a lone wolf or belonged to a group or had intelligence agency links, Ahmet Kasim Han, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University told Middle East Eye.
“If it is established that the assailant had links with intelligence agencies, the Free Syrian Army or some such more extensive group, the Russians are certainly going to respond,” said Han.
“If it emerges that there are links with the FSA or some other Syrian rebel group, Russia is going to behave differently even when it comes to its deal with Ankara regarding the evacuation of Aleppo.”
'If it is established that the assailant had links with intelligence agencies, the Free Syrian Army or some such more extensive group, the Russians are certainly going to respond'
- Ahmet Kasim Han, Istanbul’s Kadir Has University
Han said he believed in any other circumstance the incident was unlikely to create an open rupture between Moscow and Ankara.
He said this did not mean Russia would "forget the incident and move on but that it will make a note without necessarily creating an immediate rupture".
Han also pointed out that the incident could even strengthen Turkish-Russian ties if it emerges that the assailant was linked to the Fethullah Gulen movement. Turkey holds the US-based Turkish preacher responsible for the failed 15 July coup attempt.
“If Turkey can show a clear link between the assailant and Gulen it will mean it will have full Russian support in its ongoing fight against the Gulenist organisation,” said Han.
Could killing threaten relations?
Huseyin Bagci, a professor of international relations at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, said the death of the ambassador would hit bilateral relations.
“Talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin will be vital if bilateral relations are not to suffer,” said Bagci.
Erdogan condemned the attack and called it an attempt to disrupt Turkey-Russia relations.
"I condemn with hate the assassination of Russian Federation Ambassador Andrey Karlov," he said. "I see this as an attack on Turkey and its people."
He said it was a "provocation given our cooperation regarding Aleppo".
'We are determined to maintain our ties with Russia. I extend my condolences to Mr Putin and Russia'
- Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President
"I explained this to Mr Putin as well. We are determined to maintain our ties with Russia. I extend my condolences to Mr Putin and Russia."
He added that a "joint task force" would be set up with Russia to investigate the attack.
Putin echoed Erdogan's comments later on Monday, saying that the attack aims to derail the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara.
"A crime has been committed and it was without doubt a provocation aimed at spoiling the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations and spoiling the Syrian peace process which is being actively pushed by Russia, Turkey, Iran and others," said a stern-faced Putin.
"There can only be one response - stepping up the fight against terrorism. The bandits will feel this happening."
Attacker dressed in suit
Karlov was attending a Russian-sponsored exhibit at the Modern Arts Centre in Ankara when Altintas shot him and shouted in Turkish that it was “revenge for Aleppo” and also shouted “Allahu Akbar”.
Hasim Kilic, a photojournalist from Turkish newspaper Hurriyet who was at the scene, told private broadcaster CNN-Turk that the attacker only targeted the ambassador and his other shots were fired in the air.