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  December 19, 2016

Russian Ambassador Assassination Part of Retaliatory Attacks Following Retake of Aleppo

As the Syrian government takes control of more territory, fighters pushed out of the country may take out their rage on Russia and regional governments like Turkey and Jordan, says Vijay Prashad
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Vijay Prashad is the Executive Director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and is also chief editor of LeftWord Books. Vija He is the author of over 18 books among them The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016).


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Russian Foreign Ministry has declared the killing of its Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara, Turkey, on Monday as an act of terrorism. The Ambassador was shot and killed while he was speaking at an opening of a photo exhibit in Ankara. The gunman shouted, "Don't forget Aleppo and don't forget Syria," as he was subsequently shot and killed by Turkish special forces.

The shooter gained access to the premises by showing a police ID card. Russia and Turkey had been supporting opposite sides of the Syrian conflict with Turkey backing the rebels and Russian, the government of President Assad. Recently, though, the two sides have cooperated in a ceasefire effort to allow civilians to leave the war-torn city of Aleppo. The gunman also wounded at least three others attending the exhibit.

Joining us now to talk about the incident and its larger implications in the region is Vijay Prashad. Vijay is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian history and Professor of International Studies at Kennedy College. His latest book is The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution. Vijay, good to have you with us.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.

SHARMINI PERIES: Vijay, Turkey has become more and more engulfed by the conflict in Syria -- not only in terms of being a throughway for 2.5 million Syrian refugees but also because of various terror bombings in Turkey itself related to the Syrian conflict. Explain what's happening and the implications of this attack.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, Sharmini, over the course of the past week there have been a series of attacks, which, you know, to some extent are linked. Exactly a week ago, there was a blast in a police station in Istanbul, the main city in Turkey, where 44 people died. This was a suicide bomb attack. Then over the weekend a seven-year-old girl was used as suicide bomber in Damascus where she blew up and killed a bunch of people. Yesterday, that is on Sunday, in the Jordanian city of Karak, there was another attack. I'm not sure exactly what happened, it's hard to piece it together, but the gunmen, the extremists, took control over one of the largest most beautiful Crusader castles up in the hills of Karak, after there was a shoot-out in town itself.

And then finally there is this assassination of the Russian Ambassador, Mr. Karlov, who was killed in cold blood. By the way, this ambassador, like many Russian ambassadors, generally travelled without much security and he had no security guards nearby. It should also be said that this art gallery was about a hundred meters from the front entrance of the US Embassy. This was in an embassy zone. But the killing today of the ambassador is part of a sequence of events that have taken place over the last week.

SHARMINI PERIES: What impact do you think this assassination will have on this war?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it's not very easy to say. Yes, there was the major assault on Eastern Aleppo. The government was able to take that part of the city back under its control as part of a deal. Because there were, indeed, some fighters inside the city -- as part of a deal they were removed from inside the city and taken elsewhere. That deal, of course, was very close to falling apart.

There's a lot of tense feelings among fighters on all sides of this battle. There are fighters who have taken back Eastern Aleppo were angry that there are villages where they say people of their side are encircled in other parts of Syria. There's a great deal of tension and frustration on the ground, but nonetheless, the ability of the various sides to effect the removal of the people from Eastern Aleppo, I think, is something that people should take some hope in.

It's important to recognize that right after this killing, the government in Moscow, the Russian government, said that the planned three-way meeting between the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia, which is to happen tomorrow, is going to continue. That is not going to be cancelled. I think this is very significant that they feel like the process to calm things down in Syria and in its neighborhood needs to be a priority.

After all, it's clear that these other attacks in Istanbul, in Karak and now in Ankara are linked in some way to the events in Syria. It's my view -- and we'll see if this is correct over time -- but it's my view that as the government seizes more territory inside Syria it is going to, as it were, in a surge, push out fighters into the region and they are going to take out their anger at regional governments such as Jordan or Turkey.

So, as the government takes more land, I think we're going to see more attacks of this kind. And furthermore, there is, of course, this targeting of Russia as the country turned the tide inside Syria. Just a day before this assassination, across Turkey there were demonstrations against Russian involvement inside Syria. So there will be, of course, more attacks on Russian symbols, whether embassies or Russian people in the coming days.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Lately, at least on the left, Vijay, there's been a lot of discussion about how misunderstood the war in Syria is, particularly because of all the disinformation out there. Can you give us some idea of what the people in Syria, and particularly in Aleppo, are saying at this time? I know you've had some direct connection with them.

VIJAY PRASHAD: You know, to be honest, Sharmini, it's very difficult to have one storyline. There are many storylines that are working right now. I think that it's going to take some perspective for us to figure out what is true and what is not true. I think it's quite clear that, for those people who wanted the government of Mr. Assad to fall there is a great sense of frustration and anger and they are lashing out left, right and center, looking for somebody to take responsibility for the fact that Mr. Assad's government didn't fall. So that anger is going towards the Iranians, the Russians and anybody who suggests that perhaps the narrative that this is an uprising of the people versus the government, you know, as simple as that, may not be correct.

Anybody who says, for instance, that what is happening in Eastern Aleppo is less civilians being attacked and more extremists forces is going to come in for a drumming. I think that this is a normal situation when conflicts like this take place. Unfortunately, of course, there are a great number of civilians who have been put into very difficult positions. There's been targeting of civilians in this war and nothing good really will come out of a so-called victory of any side. I think there should be, rather than to stand on one side of the narrative and battle each other out ideologically, you know, in the other side of this war, is not productive. I think people need to look very carefully at how Syria can be rebuilt out of this, what kind of bridges need to be built between the various sides. How to understand a project or an agenda that is best for the Syrian people in general.

I think this war is coming to some kind of end now -- I'm not sure exactly what that end is going to look like. Syria has been destroyed in the war, so it's very hard to take seriously anybody who feels jubilation at the end of this period. I think what is more important than jubilation is to look for reconciliation. And I hope very much that the attitude that people have now is not to continue to prosecute this war -- whether in social media or elsewhere -- but to look for the little glimmers of reconciliation that could bring Syria back to life again.

SHARMINI PERIES: And, speaking of reconciliation, you said that there was this diplomatic meeting that is being organized that will continue in spite of this attack on the ambassador, what is expected to take place there and how do you think that conversation will go?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, this is an important meeting because it's between Turkey, Iran and Russia. You'll notice that the West is not at the table here and nor, really, is the Syrian government. I think this meeting is to basically to unruffle feathers between Ankara, that is Turkey, and Iran in particular. You know, there has been a great deal of animosity about the strategy in the war in Mosul. There's some tension over the fact that Turkish troops continue to cross the border into Syria and there continues, therefore, to be this sort of clash between Turkey and Iran over who's going to do what in the mopping up exercises against ISIS and in the war on Syria.

So, I think, this was really to set the table for Iran and Turkey to have a serious conversation about what's going to happen in the near term, in future, as this war begins to move from Aleppo towards Raqqa as Mosul perhaps falls to Iraqi and Iranian troops and as they move in some ways closer together. This is a set-up for a great clash between Iran and Turkey, and I think this meeting is part of a process to settle the question between Turkey and Iran and hope that these powers don't escalate the conflict which anyway has nearly destroyed one, if not two, countries.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Vijay, we're looking forward to having you back next week.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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