Updated Mar 5, 2022 - World
Axios Explains: Ukraine

Russia's crackdown on free press and speech intensifies

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New efforts by the Kremlin to bully the press and silence dissent are forcing independent media and social networks out of the country.

Why it matters: Russians are losing access to independent reporting about the war, while the West loses insight into an already isolated leader.

  • The people of Russia "have a right to know about the death, suffering and destruction being inflicted by their government on the people of Ukraine," a White House spokesperson told Axios.
  • They also have a right "to know about the human costs of this senseless war to their own soldiers."

Driving the news: Bloomberg and the BBC said they are suspending operations in Russia, while CNN, CBS and ABC ceased broadcasting in the country after lawmakers approved new legislation Friday that threatens to imprison journalists and individuals for up to 15 years if they publish what Moscow deems to be "fake" information about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait said in a note to staff the change to the criminal code "makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country."
  • BBC director-general Tim Davie said BBC was not prepared to expose journalists "to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs."
  • Russian regulators warned media at the start of the war that outlets were only allowed to use government-sourced information to report on the invasion.

Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor also said Friday it blocked the websites of several outlets, including U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for spreading what it called fake news on the "special operation in Ukraine."

  • German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and Meduza, an independent Russian publication based in Latvia, were also blocked.

Inside Russia, independent news agencies are being yanked off the air, forcing journalists to flee the country.

  • Roskomnadzor on Tuesday restricted access to Russian independent outlets Radio Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV for "deliberately" sharing what it claimed was false information about the invasion.
  • Both outlets, the State Department said, have reputations for high-quality reporting within Russia and beyond.

Russia also blocked Facebook entirely Friday, after partially restricting the social network last week.

  • "Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silence from speaking out," Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a statement Friday in response to the ban.
  • Tech companies have been limiting the reach of Russian state media in response to Western government requests. Many firms have restricted Russian state media from buying ads globally. Google and Apple have removed apps for RT and Sputnik from their app stores globally.

The big picture: Putin's propaganda push has intensified as protests erupt at home.

  • The Kremlin is relying on state media to sell the war as a success domestically, even as the West continues to punish Moscow with punitive sanctions.

What to watch: Russia's push to limit information now could impact the West's ability to accurately understand what's happening in the country for years to come.

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