Russian pranksters trick Irish PM who told them Ukraine not likely to join EU

By Isaac M December 20, 2023

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar became the latest victim of pro-Kremlin pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov who have tricked the world’s biggest leaders, including Italy’s Georgia Meloni and Britain’s Boris Johnson.

The notorious pranksters pretended to be representatives of the African Union Commission in a phone call during which the Irish leader said that it was “not very likely” that Ukraine would join the European Union soon, according the a video of the call posted online on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar confirmed that the call took place “earlier this year” but said the video was doctored. The video “does not represent what actually took place”, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that the conversation was abruptly ended by the prime minister because of “suspicions about its nature and the manner in which it was conducted”.

“Earlier this year the Taoiseach took part in a virtual meeting on the understanding that it was with a representative of the African Union Commission. The Taoiseach (prime minister) ended the call early due to suspicions about its nature and the manner in which it was conducted. It transpired to be a sophisticated deep-fake,” the statement by the spokesperson said.

The recording of the 13-minute call was posted on Rumble, a video-streaming website that has controversially pledged to rally against censorship and allow freedom of speech.

On the call, Mr Varadkar said that the war in Ukraine is unlikely to end soon and Ireland might not be able to provide security guarantees to the country over neutrality questions.

“We have accepted (Ukraine) as a candidate for membership in the European Union. But these negotiations tend to take a long time. Any state must meet certain standards in terms of democracy, the justice system, the legal system and the economy before it can join,” Mr Varadkar said according to Pravda.

File Irish premier said he wanted the European bloc to back a new financial package for Ukraine

(PA Wire)

The prime minister said he hoped for unity over unification. “There is not yet a majority in Northern Ireland who want to see unification but I hope at some point in my lifetime that will happen,” Mr Varadkar said.

The callers then compared Irish reunification with Russia’s annexation of Crimea to which the Irish prime minister said that “Russia invaded” and organised a bogus referendum there. “That is definitely not what we are going to do,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he really hoped that Russia is contained in Ukraine

“Say hello to your leprechauns,” the prankster said concluding the call.

Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov are two prominent Russian pranksters whose opinions align with Russian state media and the Russian government.

It is not clear if the footage has been doctored.

Russian pranksters (L-R) Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov, 30, and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, 28, give an interview to AFP at a

(AFP via Getty Images)

The Irish government has informed its embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as the African Union Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre regarding the phone call.

In September, the two targeted Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, who ended up sharing her thoughts on the Ukraine war and her frustration with the migrants’ influx. She reportedly said that there is “a lot of fatigue” “from all sides” about Russia’s war in Ukraine.

She said “the problem is to find a way out” of the war that is “acceptable for both without destroying the international law”.

Her office said the call took place on 18 September and the pranksters impersonated as head of the African Union Commission.

Mr Boris Johnson also became the victim of the hoax call when he was working as a UK foreign secretary in 2018 and discussed UK-Russia relations, the Salisbury poisoning, and Syria.

Downing Street ordered an investigation into the incident that some believed was at the behest of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The duo have also pranked Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Bernie Sanders during his Democratic presidential nomination campaign, and senior European parliamentarians from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and the UK.


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