PARIS -- An off-duty Turkish police officer gunned down Russia's ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, Monday at a photo exhibit on Ankara's John F. Kennedy Street, just across from the U.S. Embassy. The assailant, a member of the riot police, positioned himself right behind the ambassador, fired several shots at close range, and then ranted about Russia's involvement in the anti-jihadist operation in Syria.
This incident is symbolic of the chaos that plagues Turkey and permeates its foreign policy. Is Turkey fighting jihadism or sponsoring it? When it comes to fog of war, Turkey is the ultimate nation-state smoke machine.
The shooting fell on the eve of a trilateral meeting of Russian, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers to address the Syrian conflict.
"We are convinced that those who planned this barbaric act aimed to undermine the process of normalization of Russian-Turkish relations, mainly in order to prevent effective counterterrorist measures in Syria," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
History suggests that Turkey is hardly going to allow rapprochement with Russia or any other country to deter it from having all kinds of wild affairs on the side -- including with terrorist groups.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan isn't two-faced -- he's at least four-faced. Turkey has managed to convince Russia and the United States that it's a key partner in the fight against terrorism, all while assisting the Islamic State and the Gulf states that sponsor it.
Turkey is supposedly America's "friend and ally" in the region. Turkey's Incirlik Air Base has served as an operational hub for U.S. and NATO to kill terrorists, even as U.S. Defense Department's "Syria Train and Equip Program" trained local fighters in Turkey, adding more tinder to the conflict.
Turkey has also sought better relations with Russia, now that Russia has established itself as arguably the most influential foreign power in the region via the Syrian conflict. It wasn't always so.
In December 2015, shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border, the Russian Defense Ministry conducted a show-and-tell of oil smuggling routes to Turkey. The smuggled oil, which Russia claimed was being bought primarily by Turkey, funded Islamic State terrorists to the tune of a reported $3 million a day. "According to our data, the top political leadership of the country -- President Erdogan and his family -- is involved in this criminal business," said Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.
Earlier this month, Turkey aligned itself with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- known sponsors of terrorism -- to issue a joint statement calling for the United Nations to hold an emergency session of the General Assembly to address the Syrian crisis. Obviously, any U.N. meddling would have been to the detriment of Syrian government forces and their Russian allies as they were about to retake the key city of Aleppo from jihadists.
In the past year, Turkey has been both friend and nuisance to Europe, threatening to unleash a wave of up to 3 million Syrian migrants upon Europe if the European Parliament didn't cough up more of the 6 billion euros it pledged through 2018 to fund Turkey's Syrian refugee camps.
As part of a deal with Europe that was struck earlier this year, Erdogan secured an agreement to lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens traveling within the European Union, provided that Turkey met a set of benchmarks. As of today, the restriction remains. A French official close to the deal told me that Erdogan has failed to meet certain basic conditions and is using antiterrorism efforts as little more than a convenient pretext for his own questionable political agenda.
Erdogan also managed to get the European Union to agree to "re-energize" negotiations for Turkey's inclusion in the EU. Great, that's just what Europe needs right now: a new member with an elusive agenda, questionable allegiances, ambassador-killing jihadists embedded in its security services, and a recent coup d'etat attempt that has yet to be reliably explained. Privately, officials tell me that Turkish membership in the EU will never happen -- yet Europe is striking worthless agreements that give Erdogan a pretext to exploit Europe's vulnerabilities.
Turkey has positioned itself at the center of the global war on terrorism by telling every player involved what it wants to hear. Allying with Turkey is like dating a cheater. Anyone who's been with one knows that a cheater is only loyal if there are no other compelling opportunities. You might think that you can somehow persuade a cheater to change, but you'll always be wondering if they're seducing someone else behind your back and whether anything they tell you is reliable.
Russia's ambassador perished tragically in a chaotic house of mirrors -- one that will continue to impede any hope of lasting peace and stability in the region.