Sunday 15 September 2019

Kremlin accused as Johnson falls victim to hoax phone call

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was victim of prank. Photo: AFP
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was victim of prank. Photo: AFP

Gordon Rayner

A prank call to Boris Johnson has triggered a diplomatic row after the Kremlin was accused of being behind the "desperate" stunt.

The UK foreign secretary was caught out by a Russian prankster who kept him on the phone for 18 minutes by pretending to be the new prime minister of Armenia.

Mr Johnson unwittingly discussed President Vladimir Putin and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal before he rumbled the hoax and ended the call.

The UK's Foreign Office believes the pranksters, who have previously caught out other politicians, made the call with the blessing of the Kremlin to "save face" after it was shamed over the Salisbury attack.

A recording of the phone call, which happened last week, was put online the day after Yulia Skripal made her first public statement about her poisoning, in which she said she had been the victim of an attempted assassination.

It also came on the day that Dutch investigators revealed evidence that a Russian military missile shot down flight MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014.

Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who call themselves Lexus and Vovan, are the two men who made the call to Mr Johnson last week.

Their previous victims include Elton John, the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the US energy secretary Rick Perry.

They are understood to have convinced the UK's Europe Minister Alan Duncan in a previous call that one of them was Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian premier.

It enabled them to get through to Mr Johnson's private office in a second call.

Speaking in English with a Russian accent, the caller asked Mr Johnson for advice on what he should say to Mr Putin when he met him, as well as discussing the Skripal case. Mr Johnson responded by saying that "we will continue to tighten the squeeze on some of the oligarchs who surround Putin", adding: "You throw a stone in Kensington and you'll hit an oligarch."

He also said Britain was "almost 100pc sure" Russia was behind the Salisbury poisonings, and said: "If I have a message to Putin, it's that we don't want a cold war but we do want to see an improvement in the way Russia behaves."

A senior diplomatic source said: "This seems to be the latest desperate attempt by the Kremlin to save face after it was internationally shamed in the wake of the Skripal attack." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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