LONDON — UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has been caught in a prank call by a pair of Russian comedians posing as the Armenian prime minister. The Foreign Secretary is recorded discussing Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and offering tips to the pranksters on how to deal with Vladimir Putin.
The caller, impersonating Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, said he was going to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, and asked Johnson’s advice for dealing with him.
“I hope he will not poison me with Novichok,” the prankster joked, referring to a nerve agent used in the March attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, for which Britain has blamed Russia. Johnson can be heard chuckling on the other end of the line.
Later in the call, Johnson said he would like to come to Armenia to find out more about “Armenia’s Novichok experiences”, and they also talk about sanctions against Russia and high-profile individuals.
“You throw a stone in Kensington and you’ll hit an oligarch,” Johnson said, in reference to the central London district favored by Russian tycoons. “Some of them are close to Putin and some of them aren’t.”
The recording was posted on YouTube by pro-Kremlin British journalist Graham Phillips, BBC Monitoring reports. It was credited to two prominent Russian political pranksters – Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, who are in favor with the official Russian media.
After an 18-minute discussion, the call ends abruptly. The Foreign Office has confirmed that the recording is of Boris Johnson.
The UK government has launched an investigation to determine how a hoax caller impersonating the Prime Minister of Armenia was able to speak to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday, the BBC reports.
A senior UK 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.
“It is tragic to see a major international power reduced to failed pranks you would usually only see on Trigger Happy TV.”
Downing Street said there would be a “Whitehall investigation” into how the caller was able to get through to the foreign secretary.
“Obviously this shouldn’t have happened. An investigation is under way to determine the circumstances around this call and to make sure that this does not happen again,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.
Pranksters Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov – known as Lexus and Vovan – have claimed a series of high-profile victims including politicians and Elton John.
Details of the call were published in the pro-Kremlin tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, with one of the hoaxers, Alexei Stolyarov, saying Mr Johnson had turned out to be “a smart diplomat”.
“For the first time we spoke with an intellectual, and not a fool,” he is reported as saying.