The shocking murder of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, generated a swell of outrage across Russia, much of which would sound familiar to Americans. Karlov was widely described as a patriot and skilled diplomat. “He was killed carrying out his duties,” said the chairman of the Russian parliament’s lower house, which observed a moment of silence for Karlov. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the attack an act of terror. President Vladimir Putin condemned it as a blow against the Russo-Turkish relationship and the “peace process in Syria.” Similar or identical formulations have been repeated across Russia’s state-run media, where most Russians get their information.
But one element was notably lacking. The Syrian city of Aleppo, held for years by anti-government rebels, had just fallen to Bashar al-Assad’s regime while suffering terrible casualties. Russian airstrikes and other military assistance made the regime’s victory possible, and the ambassador’s killer seemed to have a message for Moscow. His shouted motivation—“Don’t forget Aleppo!” and “We die in Aleppo, you die here!”—featured prominently in Western stories detailing the assassination, sometimes even in their very first lines. But it was conspicuously absent in the Russian press. One segment on Russia’s state-run Vesti news program included interviews with witnesses and even showed footage of the gunman yelling at the cameras, but provided no audio or translation. Another investigation into the killer’s background, in which the anchor noted that “there are many versions” of what may have driven him and that “all must be investigated,” cited theories advanced by Turkish officials that he had been associated with the anti-government Gülen movement, but failed to mention Aleppo. These and other stories about the assassination never failed to echo the line set by Putin and other senior officials: That the attack was a cowardly blow against Russia for taking on international terrorism, a savage response to a mission whose righteousness is self-evident.