Updated at 15:34,14-12-2017

Russian prankster confirms hoax call to Lukashenka

Anastasiya SALANOVICH, Naviny.by

A well-known Russian prankster confirmed on Tuesday that he had impersonated former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's son while speaking to Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the phone last week.

A recording of the phone call was posted on the Internet on Monday.

Pretending to be Viktor Yanukovych Jr., the prankster inquired whether the former Ukrainian leader could move to Belarus "for some period if it is necessary."

Replying to the question, Mr. Lukashenka said that Mr. Yanukovych was welcome in Belarus "at any time."

In an interview with BelaPAN, Moscow-based prankster Vladimir, who goes by his online nickname Vovan222, denied having posted the recording of the conversation on the Internet.

Passing himself off as Mr. Yanukovych Jr., Vladimir reached Belarus' Presidential Administration by phone and left his phone number. Mr. Lukashenka's aides got back to him the following day and connected him with the Belarusian leader.

Vladimir stressed that the recording starts with a presidential aide speaking and beeps following before he picks up the phone.

"I have only one theory: one may have eavesdropped on Lukashenka because one would hardly wiretap my phone," said the prankster.

Vladimir suggested that the conversation may have been wiretapped and subsequently leaked by Western or Ukrainian secret services.

After the recording was posted on the Internet by a Ukrainian journalist as an authentic conversation between Mr. Lukashenka and Mr. Yanukovych Jr., Vladimir called the Belarusian leader's aide again to discuss the leak. "They said that they did not know how it could happen but they thought that it was my phone that was wiretapped," he said.

Russian prankster Vladimir said that he had not been contacted by Belarusian authorities after he had publicly confessed to carrying out the hoax.

Vladimir said that he was calm over Mr. Lukashenka's reaction to the hoax.

A recording of the prank call was originally leaked as an authentic conversation between Mr. Lukashenka and Viktor Yanukovych Jr. on Monday morning, but later Vladimir confirmed that it was a hoax.

As Vladimir told BelaPAN, he read reports that Mr. Lukashenka had been infuriated by the prank and demanded that he be punished.

A popular pro-opposition website, belaruspartisan.org, reported with reference to sources in the Presidential Administration that Mr. Lukashenka had already punished his aide and the head of the government communication service. "Lukashenka demanded that the prankster be caught within a week and sent to 'harvest fodder' or else the heads of the KGB and the Presidential Administration would be sent there," said the report.

Vladimir said that he did not trust the report and noted that his previous pranks targeting famous politicians and senior government officials had never landed him in trouble.

Speaking to the prankster, Mr. Lukashenka said, "You have probably missed my public statement that I made when reporters in Kyiv started questioning me about Yanukovych, whether I would grant him asylum and so on. I said: first, you know, he never asked me about it. Second, he is not a refugee and is not going to flee anywhere. Third, I told them not to forget that his roots are in Belarus and that his [native] village is there. That's why if he decides to return to his village for some period or for good, I will not dare oppose it."

When the prankster said that the ex-president could be extradited to Ukraine and be punished without trial, Mr. Lukashenka replied that he was sure that Mr. Yanukovych was innocent and had nothing to do with the deaths of anti-government protesters in Kyiv earlier this year.

"Let them say thank you to him for not having twisted all of their necks… Yanukovych never ordered fire opened [at the protesters]. Had he opened fire, there would have been no one left after 10 shots. All of this is complete lies," he said.

"Let's do the following: tell Viktor Fyodorovich to watch TV and read newspapers less. Second, if he wants to come to Belarus he may do so at any time. Just notify me one day in advance… It's up to him to decide whether he can come with the family or alone."

Mr. Lukashenka said that he was ready to meet with Mr. Yanukovych in Belarus to discuss "issues relating to the present and the future."

Mr. Lukashenka's press office declined to comment on the matter.