Ukraine suspects Kremlin behind prank call to president

Kyrgyzstan says one person detained over embarrassing hoax by well-known Russian duo

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: recording contains nothing to embarrass him at home. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: recording contains nothing to embarrass him at home. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Ukraine has blamed the Kremlin and Russia’s security services for a bizarre prank call to its president, Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Poroshenko’s administration released a statement on November 2nd saying he had held a telephone conversation with Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev and discussed bilateral relations, trade and other issues.

Kyrgyz officials denied any such discussion had taken place, however.

Two well-known Russian pranksters who earlier denied making the call admitted responsibility on Thursday and put a recording of the conversation online.

“Now I understand why the so-called pranksters waited so long. They were doctoring the conversation and had to wait even longer for approval from their supervisors in the Kremlin and the FSB,” said Mr Poroshenko’s spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko, using the acronym for Russia’s security services.

He said they had removed “statements of the Russian occupation of parts of Ukrainian territory and accusations that Moscow does not want to pull out its troops from our country, as well as failure of [Russian president] Vladimir Putin to comply” with a fragile peace plan for areas held by Kremlin-backed separatists.

As to how the conversation was allowed to happen, Mr Tsegolko said: “The investigation showed some officials at Kyrgyzstan’s ministry of foreign affairs were involved.”

On Friday, Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry said the country’s security services had detained someone in connection with the hoax.

The duo that claim to have made the call, Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, insist they have no connection to Russian politicians or security services, but their pranks are often aimed at subjects of Moscow’s official ire and are celebrated by state media.

Baiting Russia’s critics

In February the comedians, who go by the stage names of Lexus and Vovan, contacted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan by pretending to be Mr Poroshenko.

Before this summer’s Rio Olympics, from which most Russian athletes were banned due to state-sponsored doping, the pair called two top international anti-doping officials, pretending to be Ukraine’s sports minister.

Talking to the Russian press, the pranksters mocked Mr Poroshenko and suggested he had been “a bit tipsy” during their conversation, but the recording they released contains nothing to embarrass him at home.

He says “now people hate [Putin] in the occupied territories [of eastern Ukraine], he deceived people and people are suffering”.

Asked about claims to independence by the separatist-run “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, Mr Poroshenko says “they exist only in the sick Russian imagination” and are run by “puppets from Moscow”.

The pro-western Mr Poroshenko has become a frequent target of what Ukraine calls Kremlin efforts to discredit him: in April, someone claiming to be him gave an interview by conference call to the New York Times, but the deception by Russian-speaking tricksters was uncovered.