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17.03.2016 | Halya Coynash

Pro-Russian propagandist Graham Phillips detained in Riga

   

Graham Phillips, a Briton well-known for his propaganda coverage in excruciatingly bad Russian of the Kremlin-provoked and armed conflict in Donbas, has been detained by police in Riga.  This has given pro-Kremlin media a particular boost with Phillips himself claiming he was simply standing and filming ‘fascists’.   The video here makes it quite clear how many times Phillips was politely prevented from coming too close to the ceremony he was reporting. 

Phillips expressed indignation when stopped from coming close to the participants of the march, claiming to be ‘press’.   While he often appears in reports on Russia Today, and such Russian-language media as ‘Zvezda’ and Life News, Phillips is ‘freelance’ with an unexplained source of income. 

His indignation is unwarranted.  The organizers of the event and the police were very polite at first, with Phillips trying to push through to ask participants, probably including elderly veterans, such questions as “aren’t you ashamed of propagandizing fascism?”   

A young man tried to explain to him in good English that his information was incorrect and kept hearing in return that he was simply brainwashed.  All participants were remarkably well-behaved unlike Phillips who got aggrieved when the police finally forced him away saying that he was trying to provoke trouble.  He initially just denied this, but then got very angry when a policeman touched him, shouting “keep your fucking hands off me!”.   Perhaps genuinely, or with a view to the good shots for Russian television and his own video on Youtube,  he started waving his arms around, shouting “What the hell are you doing, I’m a journalist”  The final pathos comes with “I’m being arrested. For nothing!” The Baltic Times confirms that Phillips will probably face an administrative fine for disruptive behaviour.

Although Phillips calls himself a journalist, and has often been in places where media are likely to be eager for first-hand reports, there is no evidence of his ever having been employed by any media except those known for their stridently pro-Kremlin position. 

While Russian media and Phillips claim that he was at a March of the SS Waffen, whom they term ‘fascists’, most Latvians at the event, and generally, view the situation very differently.  They are remembering the Latvian Legion which most see as having fought the Soviet Army.  The issue is contentious since the Legion was part of the Nazi SS Waffen.  Russia has used such military formations in the Baltic Republics, and SS Galizien, a Ukrainian volunteer division for maximum propaganda value.  All such reports ignore the fact that the Baltic Republics and Western Ukraine had been invaded twice by the Soviet Union and by Nazi Germany.  For the general population, it was not at all clear which regime was worse since both committed terrible atrocities. 

It is easy from a distance to stand in judgement, and Russia has been doing its utmost for many years to push a stereotype of ’supporters of fascism’ which is almost certainly profoundly misleading.  It seemed very clear that most of the people present were remembering men who they see as having fought the Soviet occupiers.  This, it should be remembered, is no small thing since Latvia was re-occupied and remained under Soviet occupation until it regained its independence in 1991. 

The Russian state-owned RIA Novosti agency has also reported how ‘anti-fascists’ were prevented from holding a meeting in memory of the victims of Nazism.  They quote Tatyana Zhdanok as secretary of something called the ‘International Movement for a Future without Fascism’. 

Zhdanok is an MEP known for her active work in propagandising a Russian-promoted narrative about the Odesa disturbances and fire on May 2, 2014.  This narrative, presented in a clearly well-funded travelling exhibition, claims, against all evidence that the events of that day were a ‘massacre of anti-fascists’ by radical Ukrainian nationalists. 

This narrative is known to have conned many Ukrainians and Russians and prompted them to fight, many to die in Donbas.  Phillips in turn is known for his travels around the parts of Donbas gripped by fighting.  Almost two years on Max Seddon’s account of Phillips’ distortion of facts remains depressingly current.

Whether employed or simply an ideologically sound propaganda extra, Phillips can always be relied on to say what pro-Russian media want to hear.  

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