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5 Feb, 2024 15:15

Russia lists transgender ex-Ukrainian army spokesperson as ‘terrorist’

US-born Sarah Ashton-Cirillo has repeatedly made thinly-veiled death threats to journalists
Russia lists transgender ex-Ukrainian army spokesperson as ‘terrorist’

Russia’s financial watchdog Rosfinmonitoring has placed a former spokesperson for Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, on a list of individuals believed to have ties to extremist or terrorist activities. The US national, who is transgender, has, on multiple occasions, directed death threats at Russian journalists.

Ashton-Cirillo, who was born male, decided to transition in 2019. In March 2022, she arrived in Ukraine as a freelance journalist but later enlisted in the country’s armed forces. She was appointed a spokesperson for the Territorial Defense Forces last summer before being suspended in September.

Russian media outlets have reported that Cirillo appeared on the list on Monday. Rosfinmonitoring's decision means that any bank accounts she may have with Russian banks will be frozen.

Last September, Russia’s Investigative Committee launched a probe into the then-spokesperson’s comments regarding Russian journalists.

Several days later, Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces announced in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that “Sergeant Sarah Ashton-Cirillo will be suspended immediately pending the investigation” of statements she had made, which had not been approved by her commanders.

While the official statement stopped short of revealing what remarks had led to Ashton-Cirillo’s suspension, several media outlets alleged at the time that a video containing threats to Russian journalists might have been the last straw.

In the clip, she vowed that “Russia’s war criminal propagandists will all be hunted down, and justice will be served.”

Shortly thereafter, US Republican Senator J.D. Vance, who is a prominent critic of Washington’s Ukraine policy, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, inquiring if Ashton-Cirillo was on the US’ payroll.

The lawmaker also expressed concern that “American resources could be supporting violence or the threat of violence against people for speaking their mind.”

Vance pointed out that “any critic of America’s incoherent policy in Ukraine has been slandered as a propagandist, including multiple presidential candidates and American journalists.”

Days after her suspension as Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces spokesperson, Ashton-Cirillo reiterated wholesale threats to Russian journalists in several phone conversations with Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus, who were posing as former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko.

The former official said, among other things, that Russian journalists, such as Vladimir Solovyov and Olga Skabeeva were “war criminals” and “terrorists” who should not be allowed to hide.