December 19, 2016

Death in Ankara, and beyond

There was horrible news out of Ankara today, with the brazen assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov. Here are a few immediate thoughts:

1. Whatever war crimes are bing committed in Russia's name in Syria and Ukraine, or in cyberspace, the sanctity of diplomatic culture underpins any hope for resolving and preventing such atrocities – now and in the future.

2. Having worked closely with Russian diplomats over the past 25 years, this also hits close to home.

3. Russian President Vladimir Putin's alliance with the Orthodox Church is a primary source for his support within Russia and among other lands in the region, including Greece, Serbia, and parts of Ukraine. The ultimate prize for many of those faithful will be the former Constantinople, ancient seat of the Byzantine (Orthodox) Church. Whatever criminal motivation lay behind today's attack, the long-term battle for Turkey and for modern-day Istanbul should not be ignored.

Istanbul remains home to Hagia Sophia, the monumental cathedral converted centuries ago into a mosque and celebrated today as a landmark museum. Turkey's proximity to Syria, where Russian forces have rained death and destruction by order of magnitude since U.S. Election Day, and Turkey's vulnerability to refugee flows and Kurdish insurgents, raise the specter of Russian designs on the Orthodox prize (and of course, strategic access to the Black Sea and beyond). – Conspiratorial, for sure, but nothing is too far-fetched when it involves Kremlin.

My heart goes out to Russian friends and colleagues, even as it bleeds for the innocents being starved and slaughtered in Aleppo and other lesser known cities across Syria. Social media can often lead us astray, and my prayer today is that cooler heads will prevail on all sides.

Note: I know I've missed many items the past few months, but events were frenetic and distractions abundant. Since the U.S. election, I again have the distance and perspective to share some more developed thoughts and – hopefully – to generate some constructive discussion.