Sarah Hurst on how the far-right activist visited Russia to praise Vladimir Putin and spread Islamophobic and racist propaganda about the UK.
The far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – who calls himself ‘Tommy Robinson’ – has received VIP treatment in Russia, giving a press conference at the headquarters of newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and speaking at a Libertarian Party conference.
Yaxley-Lennon was greeted at the newspaper’s offices in Moscow by Alexander Malkevich, formerly the head of a propaganda outlet called USA Really and currently billed as the head of the Foundation for Defending National Values. Malkevich was sanctioned by the US in 2018 for “attempted election interference”.
The 37-year-old founder of the English Defence League (EDL) and a recent convert to the Conservative Party has served prison time in the UK for various crimes, including assault and mortgage fraud, and last year for contempt of court for broadcasting a Facebook Live video of defendants in a trial, in breach of reporting restrictions. However, Russian media didn’t think any of this was worth mentioning, depicting him instead as a victim of censorship and EU oppression.
Yaxley-Lennon’s visit followed one by Britain First leader Paul Golding last year to the Russian Duma, which resulted in a criminal charge being brought.
Komsomolskaya Pravda, which claims to be the most popular newspaper in Russia, announced that the theme of the press conference would be “what’s going on with free speech in Europe?” It described Yaxley-Lennon as a politician and journalist and noted that, not only had he been jailed for making a video, but he had also been “illegally” banned from Twitter for “supposed extremist statements”, despite having half a million followers.
Yaxley-Lennon’s own title for his presentation at the event was more direct: “The Rape of Britain”.
“Robinson said that all the problems he was talking about were connected to Muslims,” the website RIA-FAN reported. “This is not just about one-off crimes by individuals but about gangs of migrants raping underage British girls,” it continued, relaying Yaxley-Lennon’s words uncritically. “You can’t believe the British media!” Robinson ranted. “I’ve seen their manipulations, how they make up lies about me… That’s why I’m here! Because all these issues are relevant in Russia.”
The website Vechernyaya Moskva interviewed Yaxley-Lennon at the press conference and published an article with the headline British Politician Robinson: Let’s Break Up the European Union Together. He told them that he thought the Netherlands and France would be the next countries to leave the EU after the UK, and that France’s exit would be possible if Marine Le Pen got enough support. The French far-right leader met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March 2017 – one month before the presidential election in which she was a candidate. A Russian company is now suing her to recover a loan of $10.8 million.
Yaxley-Lennon’s views are also remarkably similar to Putin’s. He said in the interview that EU sanctions on Russia aren’t motivated by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine but are an attempt to rein in Russia’s power. The EU is destabilising Ukraine and intervening militarily there as part of a programme of expansion, Yaxley-Lennon insisted. And if Russia had wanted to “take out” Sergei Skripal, it would have done it quietly, not with a Russian chemical weapon, he claimed. He said that he hoped Russia would become one of the UK’s key partners after Brexit and that they would fight jihadism together.
“We can cooperate to preserve our Christian values, culture and identity,” Yaxley-Lennon told the newspaper. “Russians see Putin as the defender of their country. He is a strong politician. The West doesn’t have enough strong men. Western politicians are emasculated.” He said that he would like to go for a beer with Putin and would advise him to fight the “censorship and propaganda” that is being used against Russia. Yaxley-Lennon would also ask Putin to let him host a Russian TV show.
Yaxley-Lennon posted pictures of his “lecture” at the Libertarian Party conference in St. Petersburg on his Telegram channel, with the words “Thank you Russia”. The party itself also tweeted pictures of him speaking to a packed hall. He was an odd choice of guest for a party, the leader of which – Mikhail Svetov – was one of the organisers of anti-Putin protests in Moscow last summer. But, if people on the fringes are likely to get together somewhere, it will be in Russia.
This article is part of a series on Kremlin links to prominent people in Europe that is supported by a grant from JournalismFund.EU.