Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald on UK sanctions list over role in Russian media

Bryan MacDonald. Photo: Twitter

Jason Corcoran

Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald has been named in a new package of UK sanctions over his role with Russian media.

As Head of the Russian and Former Soviet Union Desk for Russia Today (RT), he is accused of being “a member of, or associated with, a person involved in destabilising Ukraine or obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia" by the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation

Mr MacDonald has been made a designated person by the UK government.

Others on that list include Herman Gref, the chief executive of Russia’s largest lender Sberbank and former Economy Minister, billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler and Polina Kovaleva, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s socialite step-daughter.

UK citizens must now freeze any accounts, funds, or other economic resources, and refrain from dealing with Mr MacDonald. Failure to comply or attempting to circumvent the sanctions is deemed a criminal offence.

Mr MacDonald said in a statement to the Irish Independent last night: “I just think it’s really sad. And it reflects badly on the British government, which claims to have respect for press freedom.”

He added: “What makes this ruling even more ridiculous is that I ran the (online) desk to the highest professional standards. We did not engage in any disinformation.

"Our output was balanced and rigorously fact checked. Under no metric could it have been considered ‘propaganda’. In fact, this seemed to upset some people as they wanted RT to fit a particular narrative.

Mr MacDonald is not the former Western Correspondent of the Irish Independent Brian McDonald who happens to share a similar name.

Bryan MacDonald, who is from Carlow, worked for a number of years for newspapers in Dublin, including the Evening Herald and the Daily Mail.

He first came to live in Russia in Khabarovsk, in the Far East near the Chinese border, in early 2010s. Mr MacDonald worked as an English language teacher in Khabarovsk, and it was there where he met his future wife.

The couple moved back to Ireland but relocated back to Russia and initially tried to live in Moscow for two months,, before moving to Krasnodar in the South and Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea coast.

Mr MacDonald boasted that they would drive occasionally from his family home in Carlow to Sochi about 4,600 kilometers away.

He began working with RT in 2013 after writing an op-ed entitled 'How Do You Solve A Problem Like Ukraine?' before being taken on full time. Prior to the invasion, he forecast that Russia would not invade Ukraine, describing fears of impending war as "media hysteria".

His prolific output writing op-eds for RT’s English website and his aggressive defensive of Kremlin policies on Twitter earned him a regular slot on Eamon Dunphy’s podcast.

In one of his last tweets on February 22, he wrote: "I genuinely didn't believe Russia would launch a full-scale military attack on Ukraine. Like most journalists, analysts & pundits based in Russia, I thought it was sabre-rattling or a bluff to force the West's hand in negotiations. I apologise for getting it so badly wrong."

Under his stewardship, RT’s website hired a string of Irish and British writers to write columns for its website.

“What I am trying to do is help bring up a fresh generation of Russia writers who don't have the dumbass ideological baggage of their predecessors,” he said last year in an interview with blogger Niccolo Soldo.