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Russia accused of ‘dirty tricks’ after ministers targeted with hoax calls

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace were called by an impostor claiming to be Ukraine’s PM.

17 March 2022

Russia has been accused of “dirty tricks” after senior Cabinet ministers were targeted with hoax calls from an impostor posing as Ukraine’s prime minister.

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, with the Defence Secretary publicly accusing Russia of being behind it.

He ordered an investigation into the security breach but there are serious questions about Whitehall security after Ms Patel said the same thing happened to her earlier 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 around 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 Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Ms Patel said she had also been targeted.

“This also happened to me earlier this week,” she said.

“Pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us. We stand with Ukraine.”

The Home Office declined to give further details about Ms Patel’s call.

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

He said: “Today an attempt was made by an impostor claiming to be Ukrainian PM to speak with me.

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

“No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“A desperate attempt.”

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 the Defence Secretary 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 may attempt to splice together Mr Wallace’s comments in an attempt to embarrass him.

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