Credit to Author: Justin Ling| Date: Tue, 04 May 2021 18:09:36 GMT
A pair of Russian pranksters, pretending to be imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s right-hand man, duped the Canadian House of Commons foreign affairs committee during a closed-door meeting in late April.
On April 22, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development held a meeting to hear about the plight of Navalny—and they called a mysterious “witness 1.” The meeting was held in camera, meaning it could not be broadcast and members are forbidden from discussing the details outside of the committee room.
Witness 1 was supposed to be Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff. Instead, the committee heard from Russian pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, posing as Volkov.
According to minutes for the meeting, the committee of parliamentarians heard from the fake Volkov for about 25 minutes before the meeting was suspended. When it resumed, the committee moved on to other business.
Kuznetsov and Stolyarov confirmed to VICE World News that they tricked the committee, and provided screenshots confirming the ruse. They said a video of the prank would be uploaded to their Youtube channel in due time.
Asked why they pranked the Canadian politicians, Kuznetsov was evasive. “I would not like to comment on this in detail before publishing the prank,” he said in an email. “In general, we wanted to make…video pranks with the largest number of deputies around the world. Because now video meetings are very popular.”
Confusingly, the House of Commons foreign affairs committee is now slated to hear from the real Volkov on Thursday. A staffer on the committee told VICE World News that, while they could not comment on the April 22 hearing, they are now confident that the real Volkov is slated to appear.
VICE World News has reached out to MPs on the committee, Volkov himself, and the Canadian foreign affairs ministry but have not received responses.
The Canadian MPs were not the only ones to fall victim to the pranksters recently. The Verge reported last week that politicians in the United Kingdom, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia all fell victim to the pair of ne'er-do-wells. While media outlets initially reported that the politicians had fallen for a deepfake image of Volkov, the pranksters admitted to The Verge that it was just a matter of some make-up and lighting.
Kuznetsov and Stolyarov have a long history of duping and humiliating Western politicians. Last year, they convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office that they were, in fact, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. They have also tricked Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Elton John, and Prince Harry.
Their constant targeting of Western figures has led to accusations that the pair are working for the Russian state—the pair have made frequent appearances on Russian state TV, and have openly stated their unwillingness to target Russian political figures.
The rash of pranks targeting Russia’s critics appears particularly conspicuous. Moscow is currently facing intense scrutiny, and the possibility of new sanctions, over its treatment of Navalny—who is currently sitting in a Russian prison on trumped-up charges for his role in leading a popular protest movement. The charges were brought forward after a failed assassination attempt, linked to Russian intelligence, failed to bring down the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin.
In recent weeks, Navalny’s Headquarters—the organization for which Volkov works—was declared an extremist organization. Volkov disbanded the group in order to protect its staff from arrest and prosecution.
Asked directly whether their pranks were in serve of Putin’s government, Kuznetsov wrote “no, it's just for fun.”
He wrote that “it is unlikely that the stories with Greta Thunberg were of interest to the Kremlin, as well as pranks with Billie Eilish and Joaquin Phoenix 🙂 It is more convenient for a shattered image to say that this was a super special operation of the KGB for millions of dollars, than to admit that you were fooled by only two pranksters. Although quite famous.”
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