Updated Mar 3, 2022 - Technology

Russia threatens to block VOA unless it removes Ukraine invasion coverage

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference  at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 18.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a February press conference at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photo: Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. State Department denounced the Russian government on Wednesday evening for cracking down on independent media coverage in Russia of the invasion of Ukraine — including threatening Voice of America.

Why it matters: Russia's Putin-dominated parliament will hold a special session this Friday "to consider a bill that would make 'unofficial' reporting on Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine punishable by up to 15 years in prison," per an emailed statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

  • Officials in Russia warned VOA earlier Wednesday of its intention to block the outlet's Russian language news website "unless it removes coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine," the American broadcaster said.
  • The Russian government has also moved to shut down the Russian news outlets Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd, and Current Time's website, a joint production of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Driving the news: The Russian government's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, claims VOA's news site "contains false messages about terrorist attacks or other kind (sic) of information of public concern," according to a statement from the broadcaster.

  • "The media regulator demands that the VOA Russian service remove a news story from its site that provided factual reporting on the second day of the Russian invasion," per VOA.
  • "The article included widely reported facts regarding Russian bombardment of cities, a Russian claim to have captured an airport close to Kyiv, and statements from witnesses as well as reporters inside Ukraine."

Reality check: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on Wednesday he was immediately launching an investigation into allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed in Ukraine.

Context: The action follows a series of sanctions imposed on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government by the U.S. and other countries over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

What they're saying: "Any attempts to interfere with the free flow of news and information are deeply troubling. We find this order to be in direct opposition to the values of all democratic societies," said acting VOA director Yolanda López in a statement.

The bottom line: "Russia is engaged in an unprovoked war on Ukraine. At home, the Kremlin is engaged in a full assault on media freedom and the truth, and Moscow’s efforts to mislead and suppress the truth of the brutal invasion are intensifying," Price said.

  • "Russia's government is also throttling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram platforms that tens of millions of Russia’s citizens rely on to access independent information and opinions and to connect with each other and the outside world," he added.
  • "These partial blockages further limit where and how Russian citizens can see and share evidence of the truth of Russia's invasion of Ukraine."

Go deeper: The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Price.

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