‘Prank’ video call shows Preston MP and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace duped by Russian hoaxers posing as Ukraine PM

A “prank” video call has surfaced showing Wyre and Preston North MP and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace being duped by Russian hoaxers posing as the Ukrainian Prime Minister.

By Matthew Calderbank
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 9:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 9:39 am

Mr Wallace is shown speaking from Poland as the caller says Ukraine wants to progress a “nuclear programme” to protect itself from Moscow.

A Ministry of Defence source said the video was “garbage”, adding: “It’s a doctored clip. What you don’t hear is the Defence Secretary also saying that the UK can’t have anything to do with alleged Ukrainian nuclear ambitions, because the UK is committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”

The Government is reportedly braced for more videos to emerge in the coming days, with Britain blaming Russia for the hoaxes.

Downing Street accused the Kremlin of trying to secure sensitive or embarrassing information after the footage with Ben Wallace was published on Monday evening.

Senior Government sources added that they fear the Russians may attempt to doctor footage obtained in the calls in an attempt to embarrass the UK.

After the video call was published, Mr Wallace hit back, saying the invasion of Ukraine “must be going so badly for the Kremlin” if it was resorting to “video fakes”.

Mr Wallace did not appear to say anything particularly embarrassing or sensitive in the video, but the hoaxers warned that a “full interview” will be uploaded in “a few days”.

A “prank” video call with the Preston North MP has surfaced showing the Defence Secretary speaking with Russian hoaxers posing as the Ukrainian Prime Minister

Officials were understood to be lobbying YouTube to remove the video of the Preston North MP, who thought he was talking to Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal on a video call.

The Defence Secretary has also launched a cross-Whitehall investigation to understand how he ended up on the video call.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel has also admitted having spoken to imposters, while an unsuccessful attempt targeted Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

Mr Wallace said at the time of the incident last week he believed Russia was to blame for the 'prank' and Downing Street has now publicly pointed the finger at the Kremlin

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Russian state was responsible for the hoax telephone calls made to UK ministers last week.

“This is standard practice for Russian information operations and disinformation is a tactic straight from the Kremlin playbook to try to distract from their illegal activities in Ukraine and the human rights abuses being committed there.

“We are seeing a string of distraction stories and outright lies from the Kremlin, reflecting Putin’s desperation as he seeks to hide the scale of the conflict and Russia’s failings on the battlefield."

The “video-prank” has been attributed to “Vovan and Lexus”, real names Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, a pair accused of having links to Russian security services, which they deny.

Lexus and Vovan have previously targeted Sir Elton John, a vocal opponent of Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws, critics of the Kremlin and world leaders including Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile on Monday, Boris Johnson hinted at more military support to Ukraine following a call with Joe Biden and other allies ahead of a summit meeting of Nato leaders on Thursday.

The Prime Minister discussed his “horror” at the Russian president’s use of “increasingly brutal tactics” in Ukraine, including siege warfare and targeting civilians.

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