The fake “Leonid Volkov” who appeared before a committee of the Canadian House of Commons in April. Screenshot.
A pair of Russian jokes pretending to be the right-wing man of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny deceived the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee during a closed session in late April.
On April 22nd, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development held a meeting to learn of Navalny’s plight – and they named a mysterious “Witness 1”. The meeting was held in camera, which means it cannot be broadcast and members are prohibited from discussing the details outside of the committee room.
Witness 1 was supposed to be Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff. Instead, the committee heard about Russian jokes Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov posing as Volkov.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the parliamentary committee heard about the fake Volkov for about 25 minutes before the session was interrupted. When it resumed, the committee switched to other business.
Kuznetsov and Stolyarov both confirmed to VICE News that they had tricked the committee and provided screenshots that confirmed the trick. They said a video of the prank would be uploaded to their YouTube channel in due course.
When asked why they played a trick on the Canadian politicians, Kuznetsov was evasive. “I don’t want to comment on this in detail before I post the prank,” he said in an email. “In general, we wanted to … do video pranks with the largest number of MPs in the world because video meetings are now very popular.”
Confusingly, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is due to hear from the real Volkov on Thursday. A committee official told VICE World News that while they were unable to comment on the April 22nd hearing, they are now confident that the real Volkov will appear.
In a statement released Tuesday, the committee said shortly after its meeting began: “It became clear that the person was misrepresenting himself and the committee immediately suspended – and then closed – the meeting for further investigation.”
The committee condemned “these repeated attempts to mislead parliamentarians in a very serious situation. As the Russian authorities continue to arrest and harass those who protest against the arbitrary detention of Mr. Navalny, the incident has only made the committee more determined to be fully and appropriately informed of the situation as soon as possible. “
VICE World News contacted Volkov himself but received no response. A government source with knowledge of the incident confirmed to VICE World News that the committee had indeed heard from the jokers and not from Volkov.
Canadian MPs weren’t the only ones to have fallen victim to the hoax lately. The Verge reported last week that politicians in the UK, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have also been betrayed by the two Ner-do-Wells. While media initially reported that politicians fell for the wrong image of Volkov, the jokes admitted that it was all about makeup and lighting.
Kuznetsov and Stolyarov have a long history of deceiving and humiliating Western politicians. Last year, you convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office that you were indeed the youthful climate activist Greta Thunberg. They also tricked Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Elton John and Prince Harry.
Their constant focus on Western figures has led to allegations that the couple work for the Russian state – they have appeared frequently on Russian state television and have openly stated that they are unwilling to take action against Russian political figures.
The rash of pranks against Russia’s critics is particularly striking. Moscow is currently under intense scrutiny and the possibility of new sanctions regarding his treatment of Navalny, who is currently in a Russian prison and charged with his role in leading a popular protest movement. The charges came after a failed assassination attempt related to Russian intelligence failed to bring down the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin.
In the past few weeks, Navalny headquarters – the organization Volkov works for – has been declared an extremist organization. Volkov disbanded the group to protect its employees from arrest and prosecution.
When asked directly whether their pranks served Putin’s government, Kuznetsov wrote, “No, it’s just for fun.”
“It’s unlikely that the stories with Greta Thunberg were of any interest to the Kremlin, as were pranks with Billie Eilish and Joaquin Phoenix :)” he said. “For a broken picture, it is more convenient to say that this was a very special KGB operation for millions of dollars than to admit that you were only fooled by two jokes. Though pretty famous. “
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This story has been updated to include a statement from the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.