The British defense secretary has ordered an inquiry into a video call he received on Thursday from an imposter pretending to be Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s prime minister. In a series of tweets, the Right Honorable Ben Wallace disclosed that the man asked “several misleading questions” and he eventually ended the call after becoming suspicious. The official described the hoax as a “desperate attempt”, and pinned the blame on Russia.
“No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukriane. A desperate attempt,” wrote the Conservative politician in the tweet. Wallace did not reveal any evidence backing his claim that Russia was responsible for the fake call, nor name any individuals involved.
Deborah Haynes of Sky News noted that the perpetrators went to “great lengths” to stage the video call, including placing a Ukrainian flag behind the so-called “Ukrainian prime minister” and using fake details from the Ukraine embassy. At one point, the culprit asked Wallace if he received “the substance” they sent. A few more minutes of similarly absurd questioning finally raised enough alarm bells for Wallace to abort the call.
A pair of Russian comedians known as Lexus and Vovan are infamous for regularly pranking world leaders. As Irish Times notes, the pair once called former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, posing as the president of Kyrgyzstan. The same pair also pretended — in a call to the actual Poroshenko— to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They also duped British Prime Minister Boris Johnson into taking an 18-minute video call with an actor who was impersonating the prime minister of Armenia. During the call, Johnson talked about the UK’s plans for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. While the Kremlin denies employing the pair, Russian state media often congratulates their actions.
NEW: An imposter posing as Ukraine’s prime minister tricked his way onto a video call with Britain’s defence secretary in a suspected Russian ploy. @BWallaceMP ordered an immediate inquiry into the security breach that saw him engage with the fraud for about 10 minutes 1/
— Deborah Haynes (@haynesdeborah) March 17, 2022
While a security snafu at this level is no doubt embarrassing to the British defense ministry, disclosing that such a call happened is also important to national security. As Haynes notes, raising awareness of the call could thwart any attempts to doctor the footage and release it in order to mislead the public.
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