I’ve been covering the situation in Donbass for 3 years now, and on December 22nd, returned from covering war in the trenches by Debaltsevo to find that those sitting thousands of kilometres away in cases, from their laptops, had decided to launch the latest fusilade of the information war at me.
It started with Bild journalist Julian Röpcke. a long-time critic of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, quickly coming out with the tweet that I’d ‘exposed positions of the Russian army‘, as he referred to them. I’d add that I found out about this through the back door, as despite limited interaction ever, Julian long ago blocked me from following his tweets, for some reason.
At least Julian, who, reading his tweets, seems to have a pathological hatred for Russia, admitted in a subsequent tweet, the intention behind this – to try to cause problems for me.
This is a reference to the Russian state-owned tv channel Zvezda having done a story, simply stating facts, that Ropcke had claimed I’d ‘revealed positions’. There’s no indication that this represents any such sentiments, from the ‘Russian military’, however I’d add that the article was also written without any attempt to defend me, and nor do I expect any special treatment from the Russian, or any, media.
As for Julian, I’m not sure what war he thinks he’s actually reporting on here. He’s certainly not been to Donbass for a long time, and never covered conflict here. But, from a desk at Bild in Berlin, he’s more than happy to, deceitfully, malevolently, attempt to cause problems for myself, a journalist who has, without wishing to big-up oneself, put his life on the line for years, even wounded doing so, to bring the truth out of Donbass, from Donbass.
But, unless he thinks he’s covering World War II, Julian would have known that, in 2016, modern warfare, positions can’t be ‘exposed’. Drones fly over positions all the time, there was a drone flying in this piece even, these positions, by Debaltsevo, have been in much the same place for almost 2 years now. Each side knows to within a few inches the position of the other.
However, having myself filmed on the frontline what must be almost 100 times now (this from May 2014), in Donbass, I still take my responsibilities seriously. I showed the commander in charge of this unit the footage of Ukrainian shelling pounding by Donbass militia positions (which Julian has imaginatively called ‘RU army’, despite all of the men I interviewed there being from Donbass). He gave the green-light to include the shots, from positions, of Ukrainian shelling hitting. And that was that.
But that wasn’t that for those who, from thousands of kilometres away, would love to cause problems for me in Donbass. Just yesterday, Aric Toler, of Bellingcat, began repeating these claims on Twitter.
Again, I found out about this through the back door, as, once more, despite limited interaction, Toler has blocked me from reading his Tweets.
This linked to an article on Medium, authored by the ever anti-Russian Atlantic Council’s DFR lab, which fleshed out earlier claims, and added information provided by a tweet from a long-dormant Twitter, never active account that one of the militia members I’d filmed, Rumin, had been ‘wounded‘ that night after a ‘Ukrainian attack‘.
Medium have deliberately chosen to misinterpret my replies to this, completely unsubstantiated tweet, linked to a member of Ukraine’s ‘Tornado’ unit. My replies were –
1. Никакой ‘Румын’ не был на место.
No ‘Rumin’ whatsoever was there. (I used hyphens, to avoid confusion,as his name literally translates as ‘Romanian’ in Russian)
2. Что ополченец ‘Румын’ ‘был ранен там’. Просто бред – такой человек не был вообще.
That militia member ‘Rumin’ ‘was wounded there’. Just nonsnese – this person simply wasn’t (wounded) at all.
And those replies were exactly what I knew as fact. That ‘Rumin’ was not at the position we’d filmed at – as we were leaving, he was soon to change positions, and return to base, and when I met up with Korshun, who’d taken us to positions, a couple of days later he informed me that everyone we’d filmed was present, and correct.
Even the Medium article had to, reluctantly, conclude that there was no evidence my videos had helped the Ukrainian military, and absolutely no evidence anyone had been wounded because of them.
However, this didn’t stop Eliot Higgins, of Bellingcat, tweeting out ‘did @GrahamWP_UK get a separatist killed?’….
Again, Eliot has blocked me from following him, so while he added my tag, to make it look like he was tweeting at me, I had to go through the back door to find it, and he won’t see my reply unless he does the same.
I’ll add a few words about the Ukrainian reaction. Due to my reporting the war in Donbass from a different side to the almost universally Ukraine-friendly, anti-Russian western media, as in that I’ve been in Donbass, and reported what I’ve seen here, also due to my working methods being, at times, unconventional, Ukrainian media have zoned in on me as a hate figure, and their tactics alternate between creating fictitious claims about me, and some imagined connection to Russia, accusing me of all sorts of things, and, a favourite, attempting to cause problems for me.
Without any evidence whatsoever to back up these claims, Ukrainian media have reported any number of ‘heroic victories’ at this position, with the reported loss of all I filmed etc etc.
What’s the purpose of all of this? It’s one of the oldest tactics of information war – you can’t say you hate your ‘enemy’, as it shows weakness, so say you like him, and more, say he has helped you, to attempt to cause problems for him. What’s the ultimate purpose of it all? To stop his work.
Back to Ropke (pictured), Toler, and Higgins, and what’s their purpose? Also to stop my work, yet more. In the case of Toler, and Higgins, they are trying to push their brand of ‘open source journalism‘ on the world, meaning they can earn large sums of money sitting at laptops, analysing Google Maps etc, telling the world it’s journalism. I’m here on the scene, telling you that’s not journalism.
No question, that Higgins and myself have also had frequent exchanges, disagreements online. However, I would always draw a line, and would never attempt to put someone’s life in danger. By fabricating the claim that a ‘separatist‘ was ‘killed‘ because of my reportage, Higgins is attempting to do just that. It’s totally untrue, entirely malicious.
In actuality, in the immediate aftermath of that video, fighting calmed down by the Svetlodarsk Bulge, and remains, relatively, calm to this day, again, even Medium had to report this.
And, in response to requests that I ‘just go back there and film it all again to prove it’s ok‘. There were several fighters on the scene that day, all of them on rotation, changing positions, now on leave for holiday even. Unless I could go back, and film all of them, the one I couldn’t film would be publicly buried all over Ukrainian media, and beyond. And, even if I could, there would be something else: ‘Graham Phillips confirms positions of ‘separatists’ ‘, and it starts over again. I say this, to those making claims: show me some evidence, and I’ll react, but I don’t go chasing around trying to disprove claims without any evidence to back them up.
One side of war, is war, another is information war. However I’d add in the case of Higgins, et al, they’ve decided to make it a particularly dirty information war.
For me, it doesn’t affect what I do, other than having to write an article like this to explain the real situation. I believe in real journalism, from the scene, and reporting the truth. Why wasn’t the attention on Ukrainian forces blatantly violating Minsk, by using heavy artillery? Because that’s not convenient for Higgins (pictured), Toler etc – rather they use this as a distraction, with the bonus of their vendetta against myself.
I go forward, focus on work, reporting things as they are, as always, and don’t get embroiled in trying to cause ill for those ‘on the other side’ of this, nor have their attempts succeeded here. However, that’s not for a want of their trying. They are simply immoral men, doing a dirty job.