Italy's Giorgia Meloni admits to Ukraine war fatigue in Russian phone prank

Italian Prime Minister is latest victim of impostors Vovan and Lexus

Russian hoaxers posing as an African official were put through to Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for a 13-minute call. AFP
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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been caught out admitting to western fatigue over the war in Ukraine in a phone call with Russian pranksters.

Ms Meloni held a 13-minute conversation with impostors known as Vovan and Lexus, who posed as the head of the African Union Commission. The Russian pair have duped several high-ranking politicians and celebrities including Britain's Prince Harry.

They released a recording of the call in which Ms Meloni, speaking in English, said the Ukraine war was "near the moment in which everybody understands that we need a way out".

"I see that there is a lot of fatigue, I have to say the truth, from all the sides," said Ms Meloni, who said Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia was “maybe not going as they were expecting".

"The problem is to find a way out which can be acceptable for both without destroying international law," she said.

Ms Meloni has publicly backed Ukraine but her comments are the latest sign of western impatience with the war, which has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Asked about Italy's position on the front line of Mediterranean migration, Ms Meloni bemoaned a lack of help from international partners in the call on September 18.

"They do all agree that only Italy has to solve this problem alone," she said. "It's a very stupid way of thinking."

The Italian government said it regretted having been "misled by an impostor who posed as the president of the African Union Commission" and was connected to Ms Meloni's phone line.

The call took place in the context of a commitment “to strengthen relations with African leaders”, with whom Ms Meloni held meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that month, a statement said.

The two pranksters, real names Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, last year succeeded in encouraging Britain's then-defence secretary Ben Wallace to discuss the war in Ukraine. Their previous targets include singer Elton John and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Mr Stolyarov, or Lexus, told Reuters he had spoken to Ms Meloni while his colleague listened in. He credited the Italian Prime Minister with being willing to share her true opinions.

"Unfortunately, unlike her, many European politicians behave like some kind of programmed robot and express points of view that are only voiced in their own circles," he said.

Updated: November 02, 2023, 8:59 AM