Graham Phillips, a British freelance video journalist who has been operating for most of the last year in eastern Ukraine, and produces propaganda videos for Russian state-owned media including RT and the Ministry of Defence-owned Zvezda channel, is now back in London.
This morning it was announced that Phillips’ “fundraising event,” heralded with fanfare from the Russian, state-owned Sputnik news agency, in Whitehall, London, due for March 30, has been cancelled.
The venue, Walkers of Whitehall, tweeted earlier today:
We are a local pub and restaurant. We would never knowingly get involved in what has been suggested. Event cancelled.
Their Twitter account has since been deleted.
Graham Phillips had said that the money raised at the event would go to both a hospital in Donetsk and “the city of Pervomaisk,” though the actual recipients in the latter case are unclear.
Phillips wrote on his Facebook page that the event would consist of a talk and an auction of his photos and memorabilia from the conflict.
Worn this jacket, first in liberated Debaltesvo, for the final time – now to be auctioned to raise money for Donbass. pic.twitter.com/ekchhc0rOb
— Graham Phillips (@GrahamWP_UK) March 8, 2015
You may remember Phillips from various reports on our blog, such as when he inadvertently revealed the presence of Russian T-72B3 tanks near Debaltsevo, a fact he subsequently attempted to deny. Or when he claimed to have been shot at by Ukrainian soldiers when he set off a trip-flare in a field.
But Phillips’ most serious transgressions of the line between journalist and propagandist are exemplified by these videos from September last year, of Phillips “interviewing” Ukrainian POWs.
In the following video, Phillips repeatedly demands of the prisoners that they explain why they have come to kill civilians. Furthermore he asks them if they are:
“ready to go home now and accept that it is Novorossiya here and not Ukraine?”
This is clearly pushing a propaganda line and is completely at-odds with journalistic ethics with regards to POWs.
In another, deeply troublesome video, Phillips “interviews” a severely burnt man who is purportedly a captured member of the Ukrainian Aidar volunteer battalion.
Again, Phillips asks him to justify his presence in the conflict and asks leading questions about ‘Novorossiya’ and the sham referendum conducted last summer.
Phillips’ event is to be held at Walkers of Whitehall, a pub just off Trafalgar Square. A post from Phillips thanked one Steven Lacey for his assistance in organising the event.
Lacey is a convert to Russian Orthodox Christianity and ran for election as a Tory councillor last year in Hounslow, London.
Lacey claimed this afternoon on his Twitter account (which he temporarily deleted earlier in the day) that his “assistance” had gone no further than showing Phillips the venue.
But he is also an executive member of the Westminster Russia Forum (WRF), a successor group to Conservative Friends of Russia (CFR), a lobby group that was quietly re-branded after negative publicity following investigations by The Guardian‘s Luke Harding and The Interpreter‘s Michael Weiss.
Back then, in the spring of 2013, investigations suggested that CFR was functioning as a Kremlin lobby group, run under the influence of the Russian embassy in London. Diplomat Sergei Nalobin was extensively involved in the group, appearing at numerous events and arranging trips and meetings.
Since the re-brand, Nalobin continued to be a regular at WRF meetings. The WRF has hosted several influential British politicians, including the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who, along with former CFR honorary president, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was subsequently been revealed to be offering influence for money.
Phillips’ event is not officially connected to WRF, but Lacey’s involvement suggests ties between this pro-Kremlin group and the British pro-separatist star.
Furthermore, a comparison of the photo of Phillips and Lacey with this one, taken at aWRF talk by Sir Tony Brenton, former UK ambassador to Russia and member of theboard of directors at the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, suggests Phillips was at the WRF meeting and then photographed at the nearby Walkers of Whitehall, a venue often used by WRF, with Lacey:
Another great WRF evening with Sir Tony Brenton! pic.twitter.com/77aR4dAYMY
— W’minsterRussiaForum (@WRForum) March 10, 2015
While the re-branding of CFR was supposed to represent a shift from Tory-aligned to non-party-political, a move also testified to by the invitation of Labour’s Straw, the majority of members I spoke to at a WRF event in 2013 still insisted that the group was for Conservative supporters. Phillips has recently announced a change of allegiance, joining the nationalist, pro-Russian UK Independence Party (UKIP). Phillips announced today on Twitter that he was seeking an alternative venue and complained of a social media “hate campaign” and dubbed the original version of this report a “sabotage article.” Phillips wrote that he intended to make a complaint against Walkers of Whitehall and claimed:
— Graham Phillips (@GrahamWP_UK) March 11, 2015
It will certainly be interesting to see what other connections emerge between Phillips’ event, the WRF, and the wider pro-Kremlin lobbying scene in London.