Powell Pranked by Putin Proponents

(Photo Credit: Simone Fontana/Flickr)
(Photo Credit: Simone Fontana/Flickr)

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Hey, Jerome Powell, is your refrigerator running?

A video aired on Russian state television showed the Fed chairman discussing the US economy with whom he thought was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Turns out it was just a prank call, orchestrated not by teenagers but by a pair of adult men in their 30s.

Well, You Better Go Catch It

The crank-call culprits were Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, staunch supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin who go by the nicknames Vovan and Lexus. And let’s just say these two lack even the basic “charm” of asking America’s chief central banker weirder and weirder questions before yelling the Russin equivalent of “Bababooey Bababooey!”.

Instead, the call came off like a normal discussion for Powell. He talked about rate hikes, inflation, and the US economy likely entering a recession — y’know, the classic Jay Powell rap. A Fed spokesperson confirmed to Bloomberg that the call did happen but some of the video appears to have been edited for Russian TV and might not be fully accurate.

It’s not the first time the duo has gotten powerful world leaders on the phone with seemingly little resistance:

  • In the past, Kuzentov and Stolyarov successfully prank-called Polish President Andrzej Duda, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a handful of celebrities including Elton John, Billie Eilish, and Joaquin Phoenix. Often they pretend to be another high-ranking official or significant public figure like environmentalist Greta Thunberg.
  • While the stunts appear to be mostly harmless ribs of Western policymakers and cultural icons, the ease at which Kuzentov and Stolyarov pull them off has some authorities believing the pair are actually supported by Kremlin propaganda and foreign political interference programs.

Deciphering the Fed: While Russian pranksters are trying to goad Powell into revealing economic secrets, JPMorgan is working on a different kind of project to understand just exactly what the heck the Fed Chair is thinking at any given moment. Using a new artificial intelligence model, the bank has begun analyzing the past 25 years of Fed speeches and statements to see how they might foreshadow actions by the agency and general economic outcomes. A computerized “room reader” if you will.