Defence Sec Ben Wallace pranked by Russia as MoD issues alert over 'state doctored clips'

22 March 2022, 14:00 | Updated: 22 March 2022, 14:01

Defence Sec Ben Wallace duped by Russia but MoD says clip is 'doctored'
Defence Sec Ben Wallace was caught out on a call from a group of Russian pranksters. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The Ministry of Defence has condemned "Russian propaganda" efforts after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was pranked in a phone call released online.

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In a clip posted online by "Vovan and Lexus", the Defence Secretary can be seen speaking from the back of a car in Poland and says the UK is "running out" of missiles to send to Ukraine.

The caller who claimed to be Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal, said Ukraine wants to progress a "nuclear programme" to protect itself from Moscow, a claim Russian state media has baselessly claimed in the past.

The prankster pair who are believed to be Russian state agents, previously took responsibility for hoaxes aimed at the Duke of Sussex, Justin Trudeau and Elton John and have claimed they will release a "full interview" within "a few days".

But the Ministry of Defence hit out at the video, branding it "garbage", adding: "It's a doctored clip.

"What you don't hear is the Defence Secretary also saying that the UK can't have anything to do with alleged Ukrainian nuclear ambitions, because the UK is committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."

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A statement from the Ministry of Defence added: "This video, like most Russian propaganda, is fed out to obscure and manipulate the truth.

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

As the call was published, Mr Wallace suggested the invasion of Ukraine "must be going so badly for the Kremlin" if it was resorting to "video fakes".

Ministers are now braced for more videos to emerge as Home Secretary Priti Patel also acknowledged having spoken to imposters, while impostors also unsuccessfully attempted to target Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

No 10 suggested the Government would not be surprised if a hoax call to Home Secretary Priti Patel was also published.

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"Certainly, what we saw yesterday was what was expected," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"I don't know definitively whether the other ones will be put up but, again, as much as possible, I would encourage everyone not to play into Putin's playbook by giving these sort of things oxygen."

Asked whether "Vovan and Lexus" - real names Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov - who have claimed responsibility for the hoaxes were working for the Russian government, the 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, but yes."

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The spokesman said it was not for him to say whether the video of Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was doctored, as a Ministry of Defence source claimed, but he said: "The Defence Secretary has made that clear, that he believes it was, and obviously he's best placed to judge.

"We've seen them use that before.

"I will keep repeating the importance of not giving this sort of stuff oxygen."

Mr Wallace has now launched a cross-Whitehall investigation to understand how he ended up on the video call.

Officials were understood to be lobbying YouTube to remove the video.