Russian Pranksters Trick the Fed Chair, Based on Internet Videos

WASHINGTON — Pranksters posing as Ukraine’s president tricked Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, into a conversation in January about the U.S. and global economy, based on video clips covered on Russian state television and posted online.

The footage shows Mr. Powell answering an interviewer’s questions on a video call, apparently thinking that he is talking to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s leader. The ruse appears to have been carried out by Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, pranksters who are supporters of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The clips — now circulating on the internet — were earlier reported on by Bloomberg News. They show Mr. Powell answering questions about central banking and inflation. His comments appear to be in line with what he regularly expresses in public.

A Fed spokesperson said that Mr. Powell participated in a conversation in January with someone who misrepresented himself as the Ukrainian president, noting that the discussion took place in the context of the central bank’s support for the Ukrainian people. The spokesperson said that no sensitive or confidential information was discussed.

The video appears to have been edited, and the Fed said that it could not confirm its accuracy. The matter has been referred to law enforcement, the spokesperson said.

The two men who carried out the prank have also tricked other global leaders, including Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s former chancellor.

An E.C.B. spokesperson said that Ms. Lagarde had agreed to the conversation in good faith, and to show support for Ukraine and its people.

The Fed-related video was posted on Rutube, a Russian video hosting platform, and covered by Russian state-run television and news agencies. Mr. Kuznetsov and Mr. Stolyarov posted excerpts from the call on their social media page, and dedicated a special episode of a show that they host to it.

The clips show Mr. Powell discussing a number of challenges facing the American economy — including rapid inflation and the possibility of a recession. In the clips, Mr. Powell acknowledges that an economic downturn is possible or even likely, but that it is necessary to cool the economy and slow price increases. That is consistent with what the Fed chair has said in testimony and speeches.

Fed officials are now in their pre-meeting quiet period, during which officials avoid speaking publicly in the run-up to an interest rate decision. They will meet next week and release a rate decision on May 3, after which Mr. Powell will hold a news conference.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Berlin.



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