‘Russian disinformation’: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace phoned by imposter claiming to be Ukrainian PM

Minister says caller posed ‘several misleading questions’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Emily Atkinson
Thursday 17 March 2022 18:57 GMT
<p>Mr Wallace has called the hoax ‘a desperate attempt’ </p>

Mr Wallace has called the hoax ‘a desperate attempt’

Ben Wallace has revealed he has been contacted by an imposter claiming to be the Ukrainian prime minister, but “terminated the call” after becoming suspicious.

In what appears to be a breach of security, the defence secretary said the caller claimed to be the country’s prime minister and posed “several misleading questions”.

It was not immediately clear how an imposter was able to reach Mr Wallace, or whether they had first contacted the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Posting on social media, the cabinet minister said: “Today an attempt was made by an imposter claiming to be Ukrainian PM to speak with me.

“He posed several misleading questions and after becoming suspicious I terminated the call.

“No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukraine. A desperate attempt.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told The Independent they were unable to comment on the incident, but added a departmental source said an immediate inquiry into the call had been ordered.

Accounts suggest the video call was arranged in the wake of an email from an address claiming to be an aide at the Ukrainian embassy. The note was sent to a government department and then forwarded to the MoD, sources close to Mr Wallace have assured The Independent.

The defence secretary was then connected to the “prime minister of Ukraine” via Microsoft’s video conferencing software, Teams, flanked on screen by the country’s flag.

After exchanging introductions and offering thanks for British support, it is suggested Mr Wallace became suspicious as the man began posing questions regarding UK policy and eventually urged the cabinet minister to shout slogans.

Government sources are convinced the “dirty trick” was a Russian hoax due to the level of sophistication involved in pulling off the stunt.

Senior MoD sources fear Moscow may attempt to splice together Mr Wallace’s remarks in an attempt to humiliate him.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has since replied to Mr Wallace’s tweet, claiming to have also been contacted by pranksters this week.

She said: “This also happened to me earlier this week. Pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us. We stand with Ukraine.”

The duping of Mr Wallace and Ms Patel is reminiscent of a 2018 hoax which saw Boris Johnson tricked into discussing British-Russian relations with callers posing as the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan.

An audio clip was shared online by two Russians, Lexus and Vovan, which appeared to show the then-foreign secretary discussing the UK’s dealings with Moscow and the poisoning of the Skripals with the pair pretending to be Mr Pashinyan.

The foreign office said the current UK prime minister had ended the call when he realised it was a hoax and issued a stern statement condemning the “childish actions” of the duo.

He reportedly said: “I think it is very important for the Russians to know that the UK is absolutely determined to stand firm against them and we will continue to tighten the squeeze on some of the oligarchs that surround Putin.”

Sanctions against oligarchs have been extremely useful, Mr Johnson said, adding: “You throw a stone in Kensington and you hit an oligarch. But some of them are close to Putin and some of them aren’t.”

It comes after the defence secretary announced on Thursday that the UK will deploy the Sky Sabre missile defence system and around 100 personnel to Poland.

No 10 have since confirmed the deployment designed to support “the Polish armed forces at the request of the Polish government”.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “It is, as ever, a purely defensive capability which we are providing on a bilateral basis to Poland.

“It will remain under UK control at all times,” he said, adding it was a “short-term deployment.”

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