YouTube removes Russian hoax call videos with Priti Patel and Ben Wallace

Tech giant investigating ‘influence operations linked to Russia’

Adam Forrest
Saturday 26 March 2022 08:49 GMT
Minister says Ben Wallace was ‘pretty cross’ about hoax Ukraine call

YouTube has pulled video clips of hoax calls with senior cabinet ministers targeted by Russian imposters in stunt blamed on the Kremlin by the British government.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace and home secretary Priti Patel both featured in videos that have been trickling out on the Vovan222prank channel since Monday.

On Friday the tech giant blocked the account which published the clips as part of its investigation into “influence operations linked to Russia” after days of pressure to block the clips.

The ministers thought they were talking to Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal – but were in fact speaking to an imposter in what officials believe is a Russian disinformation campaign.

The Google-owned firm did not find that the videos breached its “community guidelines”, but removed it following an investigation into whether it was running an influence campaign.

A YouTube spokesman said: “We have terminated the YouTube channel Vovan222prank as part of our ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Russia.”

The delay in removing the videos had enraged some in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which published a letter to YouTube calling for it to delete the “Russian propaganda”.

On Wednesday, a defence source went as far as saying: “YouTube is in danger of aiding and abetting the Russian state propaganda machine, putting people at risk.”

Downing Street accused the Kremlin of being behind the phoney calls from self-styled pranksters “Vovan and Lexus”.

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

The No 10 official added: “This is standard practice for Russian information operations and disinformation and 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.”

It emerged earlier this week that a third attempt was made to get through to a cabinet minister, this time targeting the culture secretary Nadine Dorries.

It was thought the campaign was designed to embarrass ministers and sow divisions between allies supporting Ukraine in its resistance.

Mr Wallace expressed his anger with British officials over a hoax call from an imposter claiming to be the Ukrainian prime minister.

Armed Forces minister James Heappey said Mr Wallace was “pretty cross” and “can issue a good b******ing” following the apparent breach of security.

Ms Patel said on Twitter: “Pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us. We stand with Ukraine.”

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