Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was the latest to fall victim to Russian prankster duo “Lexus and Vovan,” who, posing as a Turkish minister, tricked the lawmaker into admitting his ‘sympathy’ for Turkey’s ‘problem’ with Kurds.
Believing he was on the line with Ankara’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, the South Carolina senator emphasized Washington’s desire to lure Turkey away from the S-400, a Russian-made missile defense system, with promises of a lucrative trade deal with “unlimited” potential. Politico obtained audio of the call, which took place in August.
“I want to make this a win-win if we can,” Graham told the so-called minister.
I don’t want to impose sanctions on our ally Turkey; I want us to move toward a free trade agreement. … The problem with the S-400 is that if Turkey activates it, other people want to buy it, and that’s really going to put pressure on our alliances. We’re pretty firm about that.
Graham has previously warned Ankara of penalties if it activated the S-400 systems purchased from Russia over the summer, and more recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would sanction Turkey over its military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria, however during the call the senator took credit for restraining his fellow Republicans.
“I’ve convinced my Republican colleagues to stand down,” he said, adding later: “the reason we don’t have sanctions now is because I’ve helped President Trump … say ‘no.’”
The senator also appeared to undercut his recent statements on Turkey’s incursion into Syria, telling the phony minister he wanted Washington to “make sure that Turkey is protected from this threat in Syria,” and that he is “sympathetic to the YPG problem.”
Graham ultimately offered to set up a “quiet” phone call “off the record” between Presidents Trump and Erdogan to sort out the S-400 issue, repeatedly suggesting a free trade deal could smooth over the dispute, but said it would be “impossible to stop the sanctions” if the missile systems were activated.
A spokesman for Graham confirmed that the call took place to Politico.
“We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” said the spokesman, Kevin Bishop. “They got him.”
The two tricksters behind the prank, Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, otherwise known as Lexus and Vovan, have made a name for themselves with a series of phone pranks on high-profile officials, previously getting over on Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
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