The Turkish authorities had not been allowing the Russian Zaslon special forces unit to guard Russian diplomats in the country for more than ten years.
For more than ten years, the Turkish authorities had not been allowing the Zaslon special forces unit (the 7th department of the center of the Russia’s foreign intelligence service) to guard Russian diplomats in the country. The main task of this special forces unit is to ensure safety of embassies staff, officers of Zaslon work in many countries all over the world. They are well-trained and armed fighters, who not only carry out physical protection, but also have field work skills. Only after the public murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, the Turkish side has hastily resumed negotiations on a possibility of arrival of Zaslon fighters for ensuring of Russian diplomats’ safety in Turkey. A correspondent of the Rosbalt news agency talked with one of the officers of the special forces unit on condition of anonymity.
Correspondent: Tell me, if Zaslon fighters guarded Andrei Karlov, would it be possible to avoid the tragedy?
Zaslon officer: In this situation we can say that would have been done in the case of the presence of our guys in Turkey. Absolutely, there would be no people behind the diplomat during his speech. Two armed men in civilian clothes should be next to him, monitor the behavior of people in the hall and cover the diplomat in a case of emergencies. Our fighters in civilian clothes would also have been placed in the hall.
Karlov also should move through the city in an armored car, where usually Zaslon fighters also are, and [they are armed] not only with handguns, but also with automatic weapons. Unfortunately, Karlov did not have such protection. And it is not our fault.
C: And why are no representatives of Zaslon in Turkey, especially considering all the recent events?
O: Threats against embassy staff in Turkey started to appear more than 10 years ago. At this time, many militants, who fought in the North Caucasus, came on vacation and treatment in Turkey. A significant danger came from them. Then, representatives of various terrorist and extremist organizations and their sympathizers joined to them. More than 10 years ago, the issue of protection of [Russian] diplomats in Turkey by Zaslon fighters was raised for the first time. But a permission of the Turkish side is necessary for this, and [the Turkish authorities] had not been giving it all this time.
C: Does it turn out that Karlov did not have any guards?
O: It turns out so. Sometimes, drivers of diplomats perform functions of a guard, but in 90% of cases they are random people, who do not have any training and are not able to protect a diplomat from a serious danger.
C: And what reasons were called to explain the reluctance of Turkey to allow professionals to guard Russian diplomats?
O: Zaslon fighters come to a country with a large arsenal, which includes various types of weapons and equipment: from armored vehicles to various devices. Fighters also move around a city, armed with weapons, when they are in the service. The Turkish side was against the fact that armed people from Russia would be stationed in the country, despite the fact that it would be a small group of fighters, whose functions would include only ensuring of the safety of [Russian] diplomats. Usually, such problems do not arise with countries, where there is a threat for embassies staff.
C: Are Zaslon fighters currently working in many countries?
O: I cannot say that the list of these countries is so big, but there are enough [such countries]. For example, now our fighters serve in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and several other countries.
C: Has the Turkish side’s position on this issue changed after the murder of Karlov?
O: As far as I know, the negotiations on arrival of Zaslon fighters to Turkey have been urgently resumed. We expect to receive an appropriate order in the near future.
C: Does the protection cover all the embassy staff?
O: If we mean physical protection, we talk only about the first persons, diplomats, as well as about embassies staff, who keep secret information. However, Zaslon fighters also guard buildings of embassies, adjacent areas, sometimes, places of residences of embassies staff. This allows to greatly reduce risks of incidents with embassies staff.