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Russian Pranksters Say They Fooled Elton John With Putin Call

Pranksters who are famous for phone impersonations, say singer told them call was ‘most wonderful’ he had received

Originally appeared in The Guardian

Two famous Russian pranksters have said they impersonated the president, Vladimir Putin, in a phone call to Sir Elton John about gay rights.

Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov and Vladimir “Vovan” Krasnov, who have prank-called many Russian and Ukrainian celebrities and politicians over the years, told newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that they had called the British singer on Monday pretending to be the Russian president. The pair said that John, unaware he was being hoaxed, had told them that their call was the “most wonderful” he had ever received.

A recording of the conversation was to be broadcast late on Wednesday evening on the popular Russian late night show hosted by the comedian Ivan Urgant, they added.

Elton John’s representatives have not commented on speculation that he was pranked.

John had previously said in an Instagram post that Putin had called him and that he was looking forward to meeting him “face-to-face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia”. The post came after John called Putin’s attitude toward gay people “ridiculous” while lobbying for LGBT rights in Kiev, criticising in particular Russia’s 2013 law against gay “propaganda”.

On Tuesday night, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that the president had not spoken with John. He said the president would be “ready to meet with Elton John among others to give answers to all the questions that he might ask” but said that the Kremlin had not received any requests from the singer.

On Wednesday, before the pranksters revealed themselves to be the cause of the confusion, Russian media had already been speculating that John had become the victim of a hoax call. Some people online even identified Krasnov, who is known for fooling politicians with outlandish phone calls that he records and posts on his YouTube channel as Vovan222.

Krasnov said he had impersonated Putin in the phone call, while Stolyarov, who speaks English well, had played Peskov and pretended to interpret for the two.

“We thought it wasn’t likely that Putin would want to meet with him and call, at least not so quickly,” Krasnov said. “But it turned out that Elton John was really waiting for this call, and so he immediately believed it really was a conversation with the people who we said we were. He said: ‘Thank you, you’ve made my day. This day and this conversation has been the most wonderful and lovely in my life.’”

Prank-calling public figures and then publishing the recordings has become something of a phenomenon in recent years in Russia. Stolyarov, who is often credited as the father of the genre, has developed a special knack for pranking Ukrainian politicians.

He has been interviewed over the phone on Ukrainian television impersonating Anton Gerashchenko, the outspoken adviser to interior minister Arsen Avakov. He played Gerashchenko so well that he spoke to the former Dnipropetrovsk governor Ihor Kolomoisky for more than six hours over several days last year.

Krasnov first came to prominence after the parliamentary elections of 2011, which sparked a huge street protest movement after reports of widespread fraud. Pretending to be then president Dmitry Medvedev’s aide Arkady Dvorkovich, he convinced electoral commission head Vladimir Churov that Medvedev intended to fire him.

Besides numerous Russian celebrities, his victims have also included the former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, Kiev mayor and boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, and Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, whom he tricked into apologising for his athletes’ drunken behaviour. Last year, Krasnov reportedly called the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, pretending to be the son of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. He was so convincing that the caller on the other end, whose voice sounded like that of Lukashenko, offered asylum.

John’s statement caused a huge reaction in Russia. The St Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who helped inspire the gay “propaganda” law, told the Guardian that John should not distract Putin with such an “irrelevant topic” and that he was ready to meet the singer to explain Russia’s position. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets held an online readers’ poll in which 39% of respondents thought Putin and John should meet, while 22% said such a meeting would harm Putin’s reputation.

On Tuesday, Peskov called into question the authenticity of John’s Instagram account, even though the singer has more than 200,000 followers and a blue check mark next to his name indicating it is his verified account.

“We don’t know how authentic this post is, how authentic this account is, especially because it’s not entirely grammatically correct in English. We don’t think that Sir Elton John would have written so ungrammatically,” Peskov told journalists on Tuesday without elaborating on where he thought the mistakes were.

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