UK's Ben Wallace and Priti Patel hit by 'Russian hoax calls'

Senior Ministry of Defence sources fear Moscow may try to embarrass Mr Wallace

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. EPA

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Russia has been accused of “dirty tricks” after senior Cabinet ministers received hoax calls from an impostor posing as Ukrainian Prime Minister, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

A cross-Whitehall security inquiry has been launched after Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace were targeted.

The alarm was raised by Mr Wallace after he became suspicious during a 10-minute video call on Thursday, and publicly accused Russia of being behind it.

He ordered an investigation into the breach but there are serious questions about Whitehall security after Ms Patel said the same thing happened to her this week.

Mr Wallace said he became suspicious and terminated the call after “several misleading questions”.

The PA news agency understands Mr Wallace was put through to the video call, which lasted about 10 minutes, by officials, rather than being dialled directly on his phone.

Mr Wallace said it was a “desperate attempt” but “no amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks” could distract from the human rights abuses carried out during the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

“Pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us," Ms Patel said. "We stand with Ukraine.”

The Home Office declined to give further details about her call.

Mr Wallace went public because of fears that Russia might try to distort any footage or audio material from the call.

“Today an attempt was made by an impostor claiming to be Ukrainian PM to speak with me," he said.

“He posed several misleading questions and after becoming suspicious I terminated the call.

The video call was set up after an email, purportedly from an aide at the Ukrainian embassy, was sent to a government department and then forwarded to the Ministry of Defence.

The call was set up and Mr Wallace was put through on Teams to the “prime minister of Ukraine”, posing with the country’s flag behind him.

After initial introductions and thanks for the UK’s support, Mr Wallace is understood to have became suspicious as the man started asking questions about British policy and eventually urged him to shout slogans.

The level of sophistication involved in the hoax has convinced government sources that it was a Russian plot.

Senior Ministry of Defence sources fear Moscow might try to splice together Mr Wallace’s comments in an attempt to embarrass him.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 10:00 PM
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