“Jokesters” that pranked Zaev have no problem with being “Kremlin’s weapon”
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev gave a statement that we deem true:
…I must say that I too became one of those who, over the past few years, have been deceived by a well-organized structure. These are structures that benefit from new forms, tools and tactics for discrediting the media and its influence and are usually directed against individuals and countries with Euro-Atlantic aspirations. This is one of those attempts for causing direct damage to our strategic interests for finishing the NATO membership process. These are well-organized structures for spreading influence in the interests of third parties…
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s assertion that the illegal telephone conversations with him are carried out by a well-organized structure, which in the past has used new tactics for discrediting the media and which are directed against individuals and countries with Euro-Atlantic aspiration and in favor of third parties, is deemed true.
Although Zaev did not give an explanation about his assertion, evidence of this can be found in the media, precisely in Russia, the home country of the two pranksters that talked with Zaev “on behalf of” the former Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In March 2016, the independent Russian newspaper The Moscow Times published a story about the two “pranksters” with a symptomatic title: Happy to Be a Weapon: Russian Prank-Callers Target Kremlin Opponents.
In the text, the two pranksters are described as a 30-year-old lawyer (Vladimir Kuznetsov) and a 28-year-old economist (Alexei Stolyarov), who started these prank calls 10 years ago inside Russia’s show business circles, calling famous Russian celebrities. Kuznetsov was occasionally hired by Russian tabloids to release his conversations.
The two of them have been working together since 2014 and they immediately turn to politics. In the time when the text was written, the two of them for The Moscow Times stated that there are four presidents on their list: Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Moldova, Nicolae Timofti and the Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko. In the conversation with the Belorussian President, they pretended to be the son of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to whom Lukashenko was ready to provide asylum.
The pranksters, known under the pseudonyms Vovan (Kuznetsov) and Lexus (Stolyarov), have denied the already spread rumors that they are working for Kremlin, saying they appreciate the Russian president, that they “would like to meet Putin if anything” and that they “would not want to be a weapon in the hands of Russia’s enemies”. But, when the author of the text asked if they be fine with being Kremlin’s weapon, Kuznetsov answered:
Why not, if it is in line with what we feel.
One month later, in April 2016, another Russian media- The Russia Beyond, published an interview with the two pranksters with the title: Obama beware: Who’s next on the list for Russian jokers Vovan and Lexus?
Explaining that their phone tricks are more than just jokes, the portal says that on one occasion they posed as fake Ukrainian officials and talked with the leaders of the Crimean Tatars who organized the blockade on the peninsula during the conflict, after which all recorded conversations were handed over to the Russian Persecutor’s Office in Crimea.
Vovan and Lexus’ political pranks are certainly of use to the Kremlin: Their victims are usually those individuals who are in a conflict with Russia. Nevertheless, Kuznetsov and Stolyarov underline that they are just patriots, and while they support Putin’s policies, they do not work for the government and find the contact details of their famous victims by themselves or through “friends.” – writes Russia Beyond.
The overall history of their pranks, whether through a telephone conversation or through communication applications, shows that targets are individuals or countries that are in conflict with Russia or in the interests of “third parties”, as Zaev said today.
Having in mind the above-stated arguments, Zaev’s statement is deemed true. Regardless of the reasons for the error, he is a victim of a well-organized structure that does not act out of fun or as a joke.
Assessed by: Teofil Blazhevski