Yevhen Murayev was named in a strange Foreign Office press release as the potential leader of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Who is he and what is the UK up to?
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Hi, I’m Nimo and this is Sensemaker.
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Today, the UK’s information war with Russia – and the Ukrainian at the heart of it.
“These are not defensive weapons. The message is not exactly subtle. Look how easily we can sweep away border defences.”News report
If you’ve managed to wade through all the headlines about partygate and Prince Andrew, you’ll have seen that there’s another major story in the news right now.
Over the past few months, Russia has stationed tens of thousands of troops on its Ukrainian border – along with tanks and artillery to boot.
Russia has repeatedly said it has no plans to invade Ukraine, but that hasn’t done much to calm countries like the US and the UK. They are not playing things down.
“If he were to move in with all those forces it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.”Joe Biden, US president
“Invading Ukraine from a Russian perspective is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business.”Boris Johnson, UK prime minister
Ukraine expects one of three things to happen – a smaller incursion into Ukraine; the targeting of Ukrainian forces with long-range weapons from within Russia; or a full-scale invasion with a puppet leader installed by Moscow.
And it was that final scenario, a Kremlin stooge, that was the subject of a pretty odd press release from the UK Foreign Office.
It had a headline that wouldn’t look out of place in a tabloid newspaper: “Kremlin plan to install pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine exposed.”
It was clearly designed to grab attention.
British officials said a man called Yevhen Murayev was a potential candidate to run a Russian-controlled regime in Ukraine.
So who is he – and what is the UK up to?
Yevhen Murayev, a former MP and father of four, cuts a pretty unassuming figure.
Wearing glasses and with a boyish haircut, he looks younger than his 45 years.
The son of a company director and chemistry professor, he was born in a place called Zmiiv, a small Ukrainian city about 50 miles from the Russian border.
A politician and a media mogul, he runs a TV channel called Nash, which operates out of Ukraine but is very supportive of Russia.
Few people outside of Ukraine had heard of Yevhen Murayev. That is, until he was named in that Foreign Office press release.
“The British government says it’s uncovered a plot by Moscow to install a pro-Russian leader in Kiev. The UK named former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as the alleged Russian candidate.”News report
Yevhen Murayev was bemused. He said the British government must be confused, telling the Observer he was banned from Russia.
He even took to Facebook to post a picture of himself mocked up as James Bond.
Russia, too, denied the claims. Their Foreign Ministry called it disinformation.
But it’s not quite as outlandish a claim as they are making out.
The Ukrainian’s TV channel gives him a lot of sway… he’s polled well as a wannabe presidential candidate… and his daughter’s godfather is Russian president Vladimir Putin, even though it is the case that he is currently under Russian sanctions.
But, still, it’s a big deal to name a person you think Russia is planning to install as the leader of a pro-Moscow government.
And it’s strange that the UK’s press release came out on a Saturday evening, signed off by foreign secretary Liz Truss, with no evidence whatsoever to back up its claims.
So what is the UK doing?
It’s likely to be tactical.
What might be called strategic communication, or propaganda.
It is conceivable that Russia will try to destabilise the Ukrainian government and in the meantime secretly support pro-Russian politicians who could take charge instead.
So what the UK is trying to do is pre-empt that… to fire the first shot in the information war.
That way, if what looks like a puppet government comes about, the West can say: “We’ve been warning you about this.”
It tracks with what the US is doing too.
Days before the UK’s press release, the Biden administration claimed Russia was planning to attack its own soldiers in order to give itself an excuse to invade Ukraine.
“We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.”Jen Psaki, White House press secretary
And lo and behold, Russia last week alleged Ukrainian forces were preparing to attack Russian speakers in Ukraine. If that is a false flag, the US may have headed it off.
The claims that the UK and the US are making might seem outlandish right now – but it’s with a purpose in mind… By publishing every bit of intelligence they have, whether verified or not, they hope to deter Russia.
Which means Yevhen Murayev might prove as useful to the West as he is alleged to be to Russia.
Today’s episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Imy Harper.
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