Trump’s 180-degree turn on the S-400: a tactical move or a distraction?

Trump’s 180-degree turn on the S-400: a tactical move or a distraction?

The multi-month crisis between the US and Turkey on the purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems recently took an unexpected turn. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Donald Trump said that Washington would not impose sanctions over the deal during the summit in Japan.

The statements were greeted with amazement all over the world and, above all, in Turkey.

It is well known that the US and even Trump himself had openly threatened sanctions measures against Turkey over their S-400 purchase from Russia.

Such a sharp reversal raises the following questions:

If Turkey was right in its policy from the very beginning, then why did the US raise so much noise around this issue, thereby heating up relations between the two countries? Didn’t America suspend the issuance of visas to Turkish citizens? Didn’t Washington introduce economic sanctions during the scandal surrounding the arrest of American citizen pastor Andrew Brunson? Only sometime later, when Pastor Brunson was released from prison and was able to return home, the sanctions were lifted, because the US eventually achieved what they wanted.

With this in mind and Washington’s general obstinate sanctions policy in general, it is difficult to imagine the country actually just backed down or changed its mind.

How does it make Trump look when his ten-minute statement was able to put an end to a crisis between the two countries which lasted for months?

However, let’s not forget that Trump has unexpectedly and sharply changed policy decisions in the past… but why this time?

Is Trump’s step a maneuver to divert attention? Or did the American leader really come to realize that Turkey was right? Only time will tell for sure, but there may be hints in the leader’s statements at the summit.



Erdogan and Trump made a number of statements regarding the outcome of their bilateral meeting at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Speaking about the tension around the S-400s, Erdogan stressed that this process will take place “without any problems,” and noted that Trump has expressed support for Turkey in relation to the S-400 and the American F-35 fighter jets. Responding to a question about whether America would impose sanctions on Turkey, Erdogan said that there is no talk of sanctions, and said that deliveries of S-400 will occur within the next 10 days.

Regarding the F-35 Washington had threatened, Erdogan cited Trump, who said that Turkey had already paid $1 billion 400 million, and still do not give their goods. “We deposited money, but the goods are not returned to us. A normal seller does not do that. Such an open statement indicates a person’s honesty.”

“From a technological point of view, one S-400 system costs a third of a Patriot system. Despite this, we are ready to consider the conditions. If the conditions will be comparable with the S-400, we will acquire the Patriots,” Erdogan continued.

Erdogan stressed that the investigation into Saudi Arabia’s assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is being silenced: “A number of sovereign forces in the world are trying to hush up this topic and remove it from the agenda. Certain people distribute very substantial sums of money,” he stressed.

The Turkish president said he protested to French President Emmanuel Macron in connection with his statements on Cyprus. “During the bilateral meeting, I told him that he could not make such statements since he had nothing to do with Cyprus.”

Answering journalists’ questions after the summit, Erdogan noted that this year’s agenda was formed by four main topics: “Global climate change, trade, refugees and the fight against terrorism. We exchanged views on these key issues, and signed a final declaration reflecting “, he said.

The newspaper Habertürk briefly summarizes the main statements of the Turkish president:

“During the summit, we held a series of bilateral talks, in particular, with the leaders of the United States, Russia, France, Germany, India, Great Britain, Spain, Indonesia, as well as with the UN Secretary-General and the head of the World Bank.

Our meeting with Mr. Trump was very positive. The US side expressed support for the S-400 and F-35. Mr. Trump openly told the media that he was being treated unfairly in relation to Turkey. We hope that the issue will be resolved soon with Halkbank.

Another topic on which I demonstrate perseverance is the issue of the security zone in Syria, and we will continue to work together in this direction. We will strive to withdraw our mutual trade turnover to the level of 75 billion dollars, as planned earlier.

Mr. Trump will visit Turkey this year. We agreed on this issue and instructed the relevant services to do the necessary training. During this visit, we will also hold a meeting of the business council or entrepreneurs.



During our meeting with Mr. Putin, we discussed issues of bilateral relations, as well as the situation in Syria, and in particular, in Idlib. We also discussed the attacks on our observation posts that have occurred recently. The measures we have taken are generally known.

In addition, we proposed to hold a tripartite Turkey-Russia-Iran summit and made appropriate orders. The summit will be held soon, in early July. After that, we plan to gather at the four-sided summit in Istanbul with the participation of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France.

In the course of bilateral talks with Mr. Macron and Merkel, we discussed our trade relations, as well as the Syrian settlement issues, the Idlib problem, the situation in Libya and the fight against terrorism.

Question: The key issue of your negotiations was the S-400 theme during the meeting with Trump. Trump said that the Obama administration had not sold the Patriot system to Turkey, and Erdogan is a very serious person. Erdogan is not to blame for this tension, Trump added. What are your impressions of the meeting?

In general, you have described everything correctly. Trump’s statement needs to be seen in this vein …

Mr. President, are you really a “serious and principled man,” as Trump described you?

If I am principled in negotiations, then this is good. Trump had no hidden agenda in our meeting. For example, today he made a series of honest, accurate and clear statements about the S-400. For my part, I appreciate that about him as well.

Everyone knows who is on his team, there are probably those who oppose this step among them. That he explained in a very open way which merits respect. Addressing Obama, he said: “It was you who brought the process to this position. If you had transferred the Patriots to Turkey, today this whole situation would not have arisen. But you would not sell them, using Congress as an excuse, and wasting time.”


On the F-35 issue, he expressed a very important notion: “[Turkey] paid $ 1 billion 400 million, but they are not given their goods. This is wrong,” he said.

We invested money, but they do not give the goods. Normal seller does not do that. Such an open statement indicates a person’s honesty. We gave the necessary instructions on this issue, our representatives will follow this process. The Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Ministry will also maintain a dialogue in this direction.

Question: You said: “Turkey is a strategic partner of the US. There can be no talk of sanctions between our countries.” We may not be able to say that the threat of sanctions is completely excluded, but what compromise ways can be found?

With regard to sanctions, we have not heard anything about the possibility of imposing sanctions. Both during the telephone conversations and during our bilateral meeting, Mr. Trump did not speak about the intention to impose sanctions against our country. On the issue of S-400, he also acknowledged our correctness. Today we brought this question to a new level. Mr. Trump called the attitude towards Turkey “injustice.” It is very important. When we held a trilateral meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump again said very important and sensible things. Of course, Mr. Putin told us about the results of the meeting he had previously held with Mr. Trump. There, the parties also demonstrated a positive approach.

I believe that we will overcome this period without a problem. Of course, thanks to Mr. Trump’s visit to Turkey and the holding of a business council meeting, we will be able to bring this issue to an even higher level.

In addition, we will purchase 100 Boeing airplanes for Turkish airlines.

Question: The whole world was watching your meeting, wondering if Erdogan will be able to convince Trump. Apparently, you succeeded. In particular, Trump said: “I didn’t see so many wonderful people at one shooting in Hollywood.” How might you comment on such a statement?

Certainly positive, but here the subsequent process is also extremely important.

Certain individuals and groups should stop spreading rumors about the S-400 because Mr. Trump clearly stated his position with his statement.

Question: After your meeting, Mr. Trump spoke to reporters. In particular, he said that they want to get the F-35 aircraft that they paid for, which is natural…

He said this during our meeting. I have already partially touched on the F-35 theme. To date, we have paid $ 1 billion 400 million under an agreement to supply 116 aircraft. The payment schedule is defined. For example, last week we paid a tranche of $ 50 million. He rightly criticized the attitude towards a country that is a strategic partner and pays all its debts without delay. “They pay, but we don’t sell them,” he said. Is it proper for a country like the United States to behave in this way? Of course not. In addition, they also suspended the training of our pilots.

On the contrary, serious training and technical personnel training in working with the S-400 was carried out in Russia. We have already embarked on this path. The first delivery is expected within 10 days. All the necessary preparation for this is done. Mr. Putin already said this to Trump.”

Nurettin Kurt
Journalist, specialist in criminology, recipient of the EU Prize for Journalism and Turkish Journalists' Association’s press freedom award , and the author of “Journalist-wolf in the stressful triangle - Incident-police proceedings-lawsuit”,  Sedat Simavi Journalism Award - 2007 (Turkey) 32 yıllık gazeteci, polis ve adliye uzmanı, Sedat Simavi Gazetecilik Ödülü başta olmak üzere, 2011 ve 2017 TGC Başarı ödülü, Avrupa Birliği Araştırmacı Gazetecilik Ödülü, iki kez Çağdaş Gazeteciler Derneği haber ödülü, yedi kez Barış Selçuk Gazetecilik Ödülü ile birlikte çeşitli Sivil Toplum Kuruluşları tarafından ödüle layık görülmüştür, ‘Olay-Polis-Adliye- Gerilim Üçgeninde Kurt Gazeteci’ isimli kitabın yazarıdır

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January 2023