Cooler heads prevailing after assassination

Last week’s assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, Turkey, had the potential to destabilize already strained relations between the two nations, which back different sides in the Syrian war and have other points of conflict.

To their credit, Russia and Turkey have responded prudently, launching a joint investigation of the assassination and vowing not to let the killing drive them further apart. That is welcome news for a part of the world roiling with conflict.

A 22-year-old police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, riddled Karlov, 62, with bullets as the envoy spoke at an exhibit of Russian photography.

Altintas shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” and “We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad.”

Three other people were injured before Altintas was killed by police.

Russian-Turkish relations already were tenuous, partly given Turkey’s role as a U.S. ally and NATO member and its downing of a Russian military jet near the border of Turkey and Syria last year.

Russia backs the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has played a prominent role in the Syrian war, including the bombardment of Aleppo, while Turkey supports Syrian rebels.

Russia and Turkey nonetheless have cooperated on the evacuation of civilians and fighters from Aleppo, a rebel enclave where government-backed forces have been accused of indiscriminate killing of innocents.

The Syrian war has sent streams of refugees across the border into Turkey, another element of instability in a nation still reeling from a coup attempt last summer against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The assassination of Karlov could have been like pouring gasoline on the smoldering Russian-Turkish relationship.

However, the two nations’ leaders quickly agreed on a course of restraint. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone, Turkey agreed to receive a team of Russian investigators for a joint probe into the killing, and both governments not only condemned the killing but also renounced it as an attempt to divide them.

One of Erdogan’s key supporters even suggested that the assassination was related to the coup attempt against his government, calling Altintas a follower of an exiled cleric whom Turkey has blamed for fomenting the uprising.

On Tuesday, representatives of Russia and Turkey said they would work together to end Syria’s war.

More than anything, Karlov’s death highlights the need for multinational efforts — involving Turkey, Russia and the United States, among many other nations — to join forces against terrorism wherever it appears.