Two Russian comedians are said to have confessed in the ARD magazine “Contrasts” to having tricked Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) and other European mayors with fake phone calls. The RBB reports on Wednesday.
He did not want to tell the RBB how concrete the actions were made, according to him it was not a deepfake. According to RBB, the comedian did not want to present evidence of the self-incrimination.
“I won’t reveal how we did it, but it was easy,” Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov told the magazine.
Stolyarov denied a political motive to “Contrasts”. The duo also does not work on behalf of Russian secret services. According to the media report, however, the actions are often directed against critics of the Kremlin.
“Vovan and Lexus” were recently honored at an award ceremony in Moscow. The award was presented by a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, who, according to the report, called the two “masters of telephone diplomacy” in the middle of the Ukraine war.
According to RBB, the plausibility of the comedian’s statements is supported by the fact that the duo has made similar calls to numerous politicians in the past, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, according to media reports. According to RBB, the duo is also said to have had success with CDU politician Norbert Röttgen, then chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag.
After the fake video switch last Friday, Giffey wants to speak to her real Kiev colleague Vitali Klitschko promptly – and also guard against renewed manipulation.
The SPD politician announced on Tuesday that a video call was planned, before which there would be some kind of test to ensure that the person she was talking to was genuine. “We will coordinate this very closely with the (Ukrainian) embassy.” The conversation is planned before her vacation, i.e. “in the next few days” until mid-July. It had been agreed that it would be in German.
Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey assumes that those responsible for the manipulated video calls with the wrong Vitali Klitschko are pursuing political goals. “Regardless of who claims responsibility for the manipulation, how exactly it was carried out and what the motivation behind it is: it remains an identity theft. These actions are consistent with the Kremlin’s narratives and goals,” the SPD politician tweeted on Wednesday.
“They want to present Ukraine’s partners and weaken trust in Ukraine and in us. They won’t make it,” Giffey said. “I condemn this act. Berlin stands with Ukraine.”
Last Friday, Giffey spoke via video with a person who looked like Klitschko but wasn’t Klitschko. After a while, because of various questions from her counterpart, she began to doubt whether she was connected to the real Mayor of Kiev. The conversation then ended prematurely.
In addition to the motive, it is unclear which technical type of manipulation was involved. In Berlin, the state security of the State Criminal Police Office is investigating. The Berlin Senate Chancellery initially announced on Friday that it appeared to be a deep fake. This involves media content that has been manipulated using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques.
In the meantime, it cannot be ruled out that another manipulation technique without AI could have been used, in which snippets of existing videos are reassembled. Such things are referred to as shallow fakes or cheap fakes. According to “Contrasts”, Stolyarov said: “I can only say that it was not a deep fake.”
Whether the technical question can be clarified beyond doubt is an open question. According to the Senate Chancellery, there is no recording of Giffey’s fake video call because this is not usual in confidential conversations.
In the meantime, it has become known that the mayors of Vienna, Madrid, Budapest and Warsaw have also been tricked in a similar way to Franziska Giffey.