A British citizen who posts pro-Kremlin material from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine on video blogs has been added to a British government sanctions list.
Graham Phillips, who has been accused of being a conduit for pro-Russian propaganda, is one of 42 new designations added to the UK’s sanctions list against Russia. Other additions include Russia’s justice minister and deputy minister and two nephews of Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, himself placed under sanctions by Britain in March.
Phillips – the first British citizen to be added to the growing sanctions list – has long been a controversial figure, receiving Russian state medals for his reporting. He has always toed the Russian line on the war, suggesting in recent weeks that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis and that the massacre of Ukrainians in Bucha was staged.
In April, Phillips was condemned by Boris Johnson and others when he interviewed Aiden Aslin, a British member of the Ukrainian armed forces who had been captured by Russian forces during the siege of Mariupol. Aslin faces the death penalty.
The new British sanctions list includes Syrian officials accused of recruiting mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, as well as Vitaliy Khotsenko, the Russian-imposed prime minister of the self-declared republic of Donetsk, and Vladislav Kuznetsov, the first vice-president of the self-republic proclaimed in Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.
Sarvar and Sanjar Ismailov, Alisher Usmanov’s nephews, have significant interests in the UK and are believed to own homes in London’s Highgate and Hampstead Heath.
Phillips – who faces an asset freeze – is described on the sanctions list as “a video blogger who has produced and published media content that supports and promotes actions and policies that destabilize Ukraine and undermine or threaten territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine”.
Commenting on the newly sanctioned individuals, Foreign Minister Liz Truss said, “We will not sit still and watch Kremlin-appointed state actors suppress the Ukrainian people or the freedoms of their own people. We will continue to impose tough sanctions on those who try to legitimize Putin’s illegal invasion until Ukraine prevails.
Johnson described Phillips’ interview with Aslin as a “propaganda message” for Russia. Aslin local MP Robert Jenrick said Phillips’ video showed his constituent “handcuffed, physically injured and coerced for propaganda purposes”.
Jenrick said the video was a violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war and that “interviewer Graham Phillips is at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes”.
Aslin was captured by Russian forces while defending the besieged city of Mariupol, although it is unclear how he ended up being interviewed by Phillips.
Phillips says her work is self-funded and regularly solicits donations from her 264,000 YouTube subscribers. He also makes money from YouTube ads paid for by big Western companies. YouTube has so far refused to remove Phillips’ videos, despite calls from politicians to take down the channel.
In July 2014, he was banned from entering Ukraine but managed to enter the occupied territories illegally.
His rise from obscure Briton abroad to figure of national political interest was unlikely. According to a 2014 interview with BuzzFeed News, Phillips first visited Ukraine while traveling as an away fan for a soccer game in England.
Aged 30, he quit his job at the now defunct British government’s Central Information Office and moved full-time to Ukraine, where he reinvented himself as a journalist.