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Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, prank calls in which anonymous individuals have impersonated Ukrainian politicians and gained access to leaders at the highest level have proliferated around the world. In Spain, one of the victims, it transpires, has been the mayor of Madrid, José Luís Martínez-Almeida. As can be seen from a video circulating on social media this Wednesday, the municipal leader from the People's Party (PP) was completely taken in by two Russian comedians, one of whom claimed to be the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, in a video which captures some compromising statements about Russia. It seems that the video prank now doing the rounds on social media (with both protagonists speaking rather broken English, and Spanish subtitles on the video) is the same one that was revealed by German media a month ago, which the Madrid city council itself ended up recognizing, although it is suspected that the authors are the comic duo Vovan and Lexus, who also managed to completely bamboozle another PP politician, María Dolores de Cospedal, worryingly, when she was Spanish defence minister. Be that as it may, Almeida's heartfelt exclamation "Russians bastards" and his agreement with "punishing them in Spain and Madrid" have unleashed a barrage of criticism on Twitter, where he has been accused of xenophobia.

"Punish the Russian bastards"

Early on in the 17-minute video call, Almeida comes out in favour of "punishing" Russian citizens living in Spain for the war in Ukraine during his call with the fake mayor of Kyiv. Asked by the pranksters about the possibility of expropriating the homes of Russian tycoons and using them as accommodation for war refugees, the Madrid mayor replies, in precarious English, that he was applying European sanctions relating to the properties of holders Russians, but that his personal opinion about Russian citizens living in Spain is that "it is necessary to punish the Russian bastards", both in Spain in general and in its capital, and that they are "fighting" to achieve this.

Deport refugees to fight in Ukraine

The controversy goes further. The other part of the video that has also caused outrage on social media is Almeida's comments about Ukrainian refugees. When the pranksters ask him (2 minutes 30 sec on the video) about the situation of refugees in Spain, stating that among them are Ukrainian men who have fled the war, the mayor of Madrid is in favour of returning them to the front: "Of course, yes, I don't think it's a problem. Madrid supports the deportation of Ukrainians to fight." And he offers the services of the city for an active role in this: "Madrid is in a position to offer, if necessary, transport to deport people to Ukraine." In this case, his suggestion does not make much sense, considering that Ukraine banned the departure of men of military age from the beginning of the invasion, and that those displaced by the war are, in the vast majority, women, the elderly and children.

Almeida, completely taken in 

Apart from the compromising statements, Twitter has also mocked the mayor of Madrid over the some of the pranksters' suggestions that he offered his endorsement to without much thought. Highlights include a performance at the NATO summit in Madrid, where the fake Klitschko says there will be a performance by activists who will smear themselves with "excrement while naked", with the Ukrainian ambassador and himself also taking part. Almeida praises his interlocutor's "courage" and says there is "no problem" on his part with the idea and that nakedness is "the best metaphor for what is happening in Ukraine". When the pranksters suggest that he join in too, Almeida replies, in halting English, that he is "not sure of his physical" when it comes to appearing "naikt". During the conversation, Almeida falls into each of the traps set for him by the pranksters, who get him to talk about controversial topics such as the Madrid PP's corruption scandal over Covid masks, the writer Almudena Grandes, LGBTI Pride, the coronavirus, the football that Almeida kicked straight at a child... Perhaps the most ridiculous moment is when the fake mayor of Kyiv reminds him of his explicit nickname, "Carapolla". "Oh yes, dickface", recognizes the mayor of Madrid. "It's because I have a big nose".