Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was duped by Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus into sharing her thoughts on the war in Ukraine and her frustration around Italy’s responsibility for migrants entering Europe through the country, making her the latest high-profile target for the pro-Kremlin duo alongside the likes of Elton John and Bernie Sanders.
Meloni’s office said the pranksters impersonated the head of the African Union Commission, and the call happened on September 18 before the United Nations General Assembly, Reuters reported.
The prime minister reportedly said she saw “a lot of fatigue” “from all sides” about the war in Ukraine, and that “the problem is to find a way out” of the war that is “acceptable for both without destroying the international law.”
Meloni claimed Italy has been abandoned by international peers to deal with a surge of migrants into Europe, many of whom enter the continent through Italy, calling it “a very stupid way of thinking,” according to Reuters.
The duo have made several calls to high-profile figures since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year by falsely claiming to be Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, among others.
Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who is Vovan, started working together in 2014, according to the Moscow Times. In 2015, they claimed to have impersonated Russian President Vladimir Putin in a prank call to Elton John to talk about gay rights, the Guardian reported. In 2020, Kuznetsov and Stolyarov claimed to have pranked Bernie Sanders while he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, AP reported. The duo reportedly impersonated environmental activist Greta Thunberg and her father, Svante, and told Sanders they would support his campaign. They also impersonated Thunberg to prank Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2020. In 2021, senior European parliamentarians from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and the U.K. said they were targeted by deepfakes of Russian opposition members in video calls, the Guardian reported. However, Stolyarov and Kuznetsov, who said they were behind the calls, told The Verge they used makeup and played with camera angles to pretend to be Leonid Volkov, Russian opposition leader Alexei Nalvany’s chief of staff.
When Meloni took office in October 2022, she became Italy’s first woman prime minister, and the country’s first far-right leader since the Second World War.
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