No, the British defence minister isn’t ready to send nukes to Ukraine
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Russian YouTubers spoke to British Minister of Defence Ben Wallace by pretending they were the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyha and then released a video on March 17 featuring excerpts making it sound like the British minister would support Ukraine with nuclear weapons. The video spread like wildfire on social media and in Russian media outlets. But the edited video is misleading. In reality, the British minister preached caution in using nuclear weapons.
If you only have a minute
Russian media outlets and various posts online claim that British Defence Minister Ben Wallace is ready to help Ukraine by sending it nuclear weapons.
For proof, they’ve cited a video posted by Russian YouTubers who managed to contact British Defence Minister Ben Wallace by pretending they were Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. The video features excerpts of the recorded video call.
This video has been cut and edited. If you listen to the full conversation, Ben Wallace makes it clear he isn’t on board with sending nuclear weapons to Ukraine.
The verification in detail
The people behind the Russian YouTube channel Vovan222prank, which has since been deleted, are known for playing pranks on high-ranking officials, especially those who criticize the Russian government. They pretended to be Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal during a video call with British Defence Minister Ben Wallace. On March 17, they posted excerpts of their call with the minister in a video lasting one and a half minutes. Their video garnered more than 290,000 views before being deleted from YouTube.
In this short video, you can hear YouTubers pretending to be Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal asking Ben Wallace some questions.
“We would like to continue the nuclear program in order to protect ourselves from Russia," one of them says. "It is a difficult question but we think to start it.”
Wallace hesitates, then says, "But… I think, more than being neutral, Russia would really hate that.”
But the YouTuber, pretending to be Shmygal, continues to insist.
“On all those bigger questions, I think those are questions that I need to speak to my prime minister,” Wallace says. “The principle is we will support Ukraine, as our friend, in the choices you make.”
Some interpreted this as Wallace’s blanket support.
“The British minister of defence is ready to help Ukraine acquire nuclear weapons,” wrote Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian pro-government outlet in an article published on March 21. NTV, a state-controlled television channel, also says that the minister “didn’t rule out the idea of helping Kyiv obtain nuclear weapons”.
The Russian minister of foreign affairs also posted a screenshot of the video on Twitter on March 24, writing: “The ease with which London officials agree with the possibility of Ukraine having nuclear weapons is astonoshing [sic].”
The video was also shared widely on social media. T-house, a Chinese state-controlled media outlet, shared the video in a post on Facebook on March 22.
A video teaser edited by Russian YouTubers
On March 21, the Russian YouTubers published a full version of the call, which lasted 16’28. They deleted that post and then republished it on March 24, but it has since been deleted on YouTube.
The full version gives a clearer view of Wallace’s response.
When the Russian YouTuber says, “We would like to continue the nuclear program in order to protect ourselves from Russia. It is a difficult question but we think to start it,” Wallace’s response is, indeed, hesitant: “But… I think, more than being neutral, Russia would really hate that.”
“On all those bigger questions, I think those are questions that I need to speak to my prime minister,” Wallace says at 12’33 when the YouTubers continue to press. “The principle is we will support Ukraine, as our friend, in the choices you make.”
However, the YouTubers cut part of the call, where Wallace states his position more clearly.
At 15’39, three minutes after his hesitant response, Wallace says: “On your acquisition of a nuclear – or, you think you want to explore a nuclear weapon – I think I would just be very careful about all of that. I think we are a signator to the Nuclear Proliferation Act, we can’t be seen to be doing that. That is an entirely different issue. So I think you have to be very careful with that.”
Wallace and the ministry of defence both took to Twitter in posts on March 23 asking YouTube to take down this video “doctored by Russia”.