White House says Russia plans to falsify evidence to frame Ukrainian forces in prison attack


US officials believe Russia is preparing to falsify evidence to blame Ukrainian forces for last week’s deadly explosion at Olenivka prison ahead of third-party site visits.

An administration official told CNN that they expect Russia to falsify evidence, blame Ukrainian forces and even have “reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it appear that the Ukrainian HIMARS are at fault before journalists arrive.” ”.

The United States supplied Ukraine with the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system earlier this year. The United States believes that Russia has collected large quantities of HIMARS fragments from attacks on its positions in Ukraine and is likely to deliberately place them in sites such as the prison to claim Ukraine is responsible, according to an administration official familiar with the information. more recent.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that the prison attack in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 prisoners, was “a deliberate war crime by the Russians.” . Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday reiterated Russia’s claim that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the attack.

“There is evidence here and there is nothing to hide here,” he told CNN. “Furthermore, they know that the Russian side proposed to the UN and invited the Red Cross to get acquainted with this evidence on the spot, to carry out the necessary thorough investigation.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed on Wednesday that it had been able to visit the Olenivka facility only once, in May this year, to deliver water tanks. “But we didn’t have access to individual prisoners of war held there, according to the ICRC’s working arrangements in detention centers, and that is still the case,” he said.

The ICRC added: “Under the Third Geneva Convention, during international armed conflicts, the ICRC must have access to all PoWs, wherever they may be. We also have full freedom to choose the places we want to visit. Since February 2022, our teams have been able to access some PoWs, but not all of them.”

The ICRC says it has requested access to the detention center again since last week’s attack, but has not received permission from the Russians.

Olenivka prison near Donetsk has been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago. CNN was unable to independently verify either party’s allegations.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told a news conference on Wednesday that the UN is seeking to set up an investigative team to study the attack following requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigate. He added that Russia and Ukraine would have to agree to the panel’s terms of reference before the fact-finding mission began.

The video broadcast on Russian networks and shared on social media channels in Donetsk shows a large destruction of a building and several bodies. CNN was able to geolocate footage of the attack in an industrial area about two miles from the frontline town of Olenivka.

The Ukrainian military said the explosion took place on the territory of the industrial zone, in a newly constructed building specially equipped to house prisoners taken from Azovstal.

The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the strike. In a statement, he said preliminary pre-trial data shows that “the occupying state hit the territory of penal colony No. 120 in the temporarily occupied village of Olenivka of the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region.”

Donetsk and Luhansk are the two regions that together make up Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists began in 2014.

The area has become the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military ambition in Ukraine after his troops failed to take Kyiv earlier this year.

The Russian military has maintained a persistent barrage of artillery and missile strikes across the region for several weeks. The Kremlin says the goal of what it calls its “special military operation” is to take control of Luhansk and Donetsk.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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