Turkey has doubled down on its early assertions, and is now officially claiming that Monday’s assassination of Russia’s Ambassador in Ankara was carried out by a group associated with the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, RFE/RL reports:
The Turkish Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone conversation on December 20 that “Turkey and Russia know that behind the attack… there is FETO”—an acronym for Gulen’s organization.
The Russians have not yet fully committed to Turkey’s explanation, saying it wasn’t going to rush to any conclusions. “Moscow believes that it’s necessary to wait for the results of the joint investigative group’s activity,” the Kremlin’s spokesman said.
Of course, Moscow may not have much of a chance to run any kind objective investigation, as Sean McMeekin argued in our pages on Monday evening:
The Russians will naturally strive to carry out their own investigation to the extent the Turkish government will permit, but in a country still under the state of emergency (akin to martial law) proclaimed by President Erdoğan last summer, it is hard to imagine that the Russians will be able to credibly disprove FETO involvement.
Whoever really was behind the murder, playing along with the Turks here might not be such a bad short-term gambit for Vladimir Putin. Gulen has been a persistent point of contention between Ankara and the Obama Administration, and backing Erdogan only drives the wedge deeper.
That said, President-elect Donald Trump has made noises about extraditing Gulen, so the gambit as such may not be very useful past January. Still, a sweet parting kick in the ribs to an Obama Administration that has badly flailed about in the region for the past might be reward enough.