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Putin, Erdogan vow to step up terror fight after envoy's murder
[ISTANBUL] President Vladimir Putin vowed to avenge the assassination of Russia's ambassador in Ankara as he and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the killing won't undermine the restoration of ties strained by the war in Syria.
The murder of Andrey Karlov, the first Moscow envoy to be killed in his post in almost 90 years, was an "open provocation aimed at derailing the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and the peace process in Syria," Mr Putin said in televised remarks late Monday after he'd spoken by phone with Mr Erdogan.
The response will be a stronger assault on terrorism and "the bandits will feel it," he told a meeting of his security council.
Investigators from both countries will jointly probe the attack, which won't be allowed to disrupt a collaboration that's crucial for the region, Mr Erdogan said.
Turkey and Russia said their foreign and defence ministers will meet in Moscow on Tuesday as planned for talks on Syria that also include Iran.
The gunman who shot Karlov in the back at an art exhibit shouted "Allahu akbar" and "don't forget Aleppo" after the attack - a reference to the Syrian city where mostly Islamist rebels have been defeated this month by Russian-backed government troops.
The taking of the city, once Syria's largest, represents one of Russia's biggest victories since it joined the Syrian war last year in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey, which supported the insurgents there and elsewhere in Syria, has played a key role along with Russia in negotiating the continuing evacuation of opposition fighters and civilians.
Relations between Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan have only recently been restored after plunging into crisis when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the border with Syria in November last year.
Russia and Turkey signaled that they don't want the killing of the ambassador to turn into another flashpoint between countries that are engaged on opposite sides of the Syrian war, a recurring risk in a conflict that's drawn in almost all the region's main powers.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is already in Moscow and those who planned the "barbaric act" won't succeed in their goal of undermining the improved relations between the states "in order to prevent an effective fight against terrorism in Syria," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said early Tuesday in comments to state television.
The attacker, who was killed by security forces, was a 22-year-old active-duty police officer and his possible connection with organised groups is being probed, Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.
The US, Iran and Saudi Arabia are among other nations that are either fighting in Syria themselves or providing money and weapons to groups that are. Iran, the region's leading Shiite power, supports Mr Assad's government and is a traditional rival of mostly Sunni Turkey.
The fall of Aleppo marked a defeat for Turkey, which supported the Sunni Muslim groups fighting against Mr Assad. Russia says the Syrian rebels are overwhelmingly made up of Islamic extremists, while Turkey has argued that they're resisting a violent dictatorship.
While that's still the Turkish line, in practice the country has switched its focus in Syria since the rapprochement between Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin. Turkish troops have pushed deep into the neighbouring country since August, but they're mostly targeting Kurdish groups and Islamic State fighters and have steered clear of the battle for Aleppo.
Turkey paid an economic price last time its relationship with Moscow turned sour, as Russia imposed sanctions that targeted the country's exports and tourism market.
Elena Suponina, an analyst at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin, said the ambassador's shooting probably won't lead to another standoff.
"This will only bring Russia and Turkey closer together," she said.
"These events have showed that we have a common enemy - terrorism - and only by joining forces can we deal with this enemy."
The last ambassador from Moscow killed abroad was Soviet envoy Pyotr Voikov in Warsaw in 1927. Two more envoys were murdered before that, including the writer Alexander Griboyedov, who was ambassador to Iran when he was killed by an angry mob in 1829.
Mr Putin had been due to see a performance of one of Griboyedov's plays in Moscow on Monday when the crisis in Ankara erupted.
In the past 10 days, more than 50 people were killed in two bomb attacks in Istanbul and central Turkey that targeted security forces and were claimed by Kurdish militants. Turkey reported a shrinking economy in the third quarter for the first time in seven years, as the instability sapped business and consumer confidence.
The US, Turkey's Nato ally, shares its allegiance to rebel groups in Syria, even though many of them have ties to al-Qaeda and other Islamist factions.
The US has repeatedly denounced Russia for killing civilians during the campaign to recapture Aleppo, while also seeking an understanding between the two most powerful outside actors in the Syrian war that could help to end the conflict.
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the killing of the Russian envoy, and said in an e-mailed statement that America is ready to assist the investigation. China's foreign minister Wang Yi condemned the "barbaric act of terrorism" and backed Russia's efforts to clamp down on terrorism.