US Senator J.D. Vance, a vocal opponent of Ukraine who The New York Times has tied to business interests that advance Russia's propaganda efforts abroad, has said that Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a US citizen and spokesperson for the Ukrainian Territorial Forces under the Ukrainian Armed Forces, had called for the assassination of Americans abroad.
Observers of what has become an online spat between Vance and Ashton-Cirillo may be struggling to understand the underlying sequence of events.
Last year, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Kremlin media source, was taken off the air across Europe and the US. However, Rumble, a US media hosting company owned by Peter Thiel, a business associate with Vance, continued showing RT. This included content showing Americans, who Russia had taken prisoner in Ukraine, before being tortured and forced to make statements under duress.
The New York Times has reported that Vance's financial disclosures indicated shares of Rumble valued at between $100,000 - $250,000.
Allowing the public display of videos of American victims of torture, particularly the support of the public display of videos of American victims of torture by a member of the US Senate, obviously has consequences in a war with which is being fought both with military hardware and with propaganda and disinformation.
"The circulation of videos of Americans being tortured is deeply unethical and boosts Russian propaganda efforts, to portray Americans and Ukraine as weak and to instigate and glorify violence and war crimes," said Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights and national security lawyer.
Last week, Vance, in a letter sent to the US Secretaries of Defense and State, made the following assertion about Ashton-Cirillo: “In recent days, a video has circulated of an individual who claims to be an English-speaking spokesperson for the Ukrainian military.
“In the video, this individual, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, looks directly into the camera and threatens physical violence to anyone who circulates ‘Russian propaganda.’"
Vance's letter references a forty second video, in which Ashton-Cirillo states in full: "Russia hates the truth that their obsessive focus on a Ukrainian volunteer [Ashton-Cirillo], is simply allowing the light of the Ukrainian nation's honesty to shine brightly.
“Next week, the teeth of the Russian devils will gnash ever harder, and their rabid mouths will foam uncontrollable frenzy as the world will see favorite Russian propagandists pay for their crimes. And this puppet of Putin is only the first.
“Russia's war criminal propagandists will all be hunted down, and justice will be served. As we in Ukraine are led on this mission, by faith in God, liberty, and complete liberation."
Vance, continued on Monday saying that "If the Ukrainians want to hire weirdos to threaten Americans and others for speaking their mind, I guess that's their right. They shouldn't use our tax dollars to do it."
The Washington Post has previously reported that Vance, who represents Ohio, a state with a large first-, second-, and third-generation Ukrainian population, drew the ire of ethnic Ukrainian voters due to his open opposition to supporting Ukraine after the outbreak of the full-scale invasion.
Steve Moore, a Republican strategist, said: "For 3% of the annual the Ukrainians have degraded Putin’s war fighting capabilities by half. Rather than helping Ukrainians take out the other half of Russia’s fighting capabilities, Senator Vance is feuding on Twitter with an American in Ukraine.” He added this is “not helpful to national security."
Moore laments that some in Congress are seeking to “shutdown the government for an amount equal to 26 minutes of federal spending.
He adds: “Their efforts to pull the US out is that the international coalition supporting Ukraine will create an environment for war on a larger scale in two continents.”
A review of Senator Vance’s accusation that Ashton-Cirillo is threatening “...physical violence to anyone who circulates Russian propaganda” leaves some puzzled if that was the intent of the spokesperson.
To quote Ashton-Cirillo accurately, she states those individuals will be “...brought to justice…” while she represents a nation that openly calls for a “...Special Tribunal regarding the crime of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine… with war crimes specified to mean both those crimes committed on the battlefield and in the realm of disinformation.”
Vance’s accusations, sent by letter to the US Secretaries of Defense and State, may have caused Ashton-Cirillo to be put on leave. A well-placed source in the Ukrainian military said that Ashton-Cirillo was initially removed from her position at 08:00 am Tuesday, September 12. However, after further review in Ukrainian military headquarters, Ashton-Cirillo was reinstated by 10:00 am that same morning.
However, within another day, the Territorial Defense Forces issued a statement stating that Ashton-Cirillo’s statements were not endorsed by the Ukrainian military, that the Ukrainian military abides by international law, and that Ashton-Cirillo would be put on leave until an investigation was completed.
This comes at a moment when the US Senate and House are gridlocked to pass a continuing resolution to allow the US Federal Government to continue operating after the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. At present, one of the major points of contention is the vocal congressional Republican minority that opposes any further expenditures on Ukraine.
Ben Weaver, an American living in Alabama, laments Congress’ ongoing distractions from supporting Ukraine, and said: “Congress should support America by supporting Ukraine and stop with the political games. We must defeat our common Russian enemy.”
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