Officials fear Russia will release more hoax video calls during Nato summit

Western officials have warned that more videos could be released during Thursday’s emergency summit on the invasion of Ukraine.

22 March 2022

Officials fear Russia will publish more hoax videos during the Nato summit on Ukraine to “maximise effect” and try to sow division, as clips of a “prank” call with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace emerged.

Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been squarely blamed for the imposters’ calls with three Cabinet ministers, while officials appeared to struggle to get the footage removed from YouTube.

Mr Wallace is not the only Cabinet minister to have been targeted, with Home Secretary Priti Patel also engaging in a call with an imposter pretending to be Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal.

The Government is braced for further clips to be published amid fears they could emerge during Thursday’s emergency Nato summit in Brussels, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden are due to attend.

A western official said: “The primary objective is to embarrass and sow division. That has been the way these have been used in the past, so we would expect the information to be leaked out over time.

“I would expect the timing of the releases to be determined to maximise effect. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that the next step is released during the Nato summit. They will particularly be looking for anything which can be used to drive wedges between allies.”

During the summit, Mr Johnson is expected to encourage allies to provide Ukraine with greater military support to help repel Russia’s invading forces.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was also unsuccessfully targeted by the imposters, but it is not just ministers who have been targeted, the official hinted.

“It’s mainly a strategy of disruption rather than information gathering,” they said, adding that any intelligence gleaned would be seen as a “bonus”.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) described the videos as “doctored clips” from the “Russian state” and issued warnings against believing their contents.

In the second clip, released on Tuesday, Mr Wallace seemingly suggests the UK is “running out of our own” NLAW anti-tank weapons.

The MoD said Britain has provided more than 4,000 NLAWs to Ukraine’s forces but still has “enough weapons systems to defend both UK national security and maintain our commitments” to Nato.

“This video, like most Russian propaganda, is fed out to obscure and manipulate the truth,” it said.

“People should be very sceptical about reporting on, and accepting as real, any part of these Russian state doctored clips.”

Talks were still ongoing to get the first clip – published on Monday evening – removed before the second emerged, the PA news agency understands.

They are presented as being from self-styled pranksters “Vovan and Lexus” but No 10 insisted the Kremlin is behind the attempted smears.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We believe the Russian state was responsible and I’m unable to go into more detail about the information that sits behind that.”

Mr Wallace has described ending the call after “becoming suspicious”, with sources suggesting it lasted for about 10 minutes.

The perpetrators claimed it lasted for 22 minutes before ending on a “benevolent mutual farewell”.

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

The pair, whose real names are Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, have been accused of having links to Russian security services, something they deny.

Shortly after being targeted on Thursday, Mr Wallace publicly acknowledged the effort in an apparent attempt to get ahead of any bid by Moscow to circulate footage.

He also launched a cross-Whitehall investigation to understand how he ended up on the video call.

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