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RFE/RL Suspends Operations In Russia Following Kremlin Attacks

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has suspended its operations in Russia.

RUSSIA -- RFE/RL Moscow bureau, January 27, 2021
RUSSIA — RFE/RL Moscow bureau, January 27, 2021

WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has suspended its operations in Russia after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists. These Kremlin attacks on RFE/RL’s ability to operate in Russia are the culmination of a years-long pressure campaign against RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991 when it established its Moscow bureau at the invitation of then-President Boris Yeltsin.

Also on March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that could subject any journalist who deviates from the Kremlin’s talking points on the Ukraine war to a 15-year prison sentence. Because RFE/RL journalists continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbor, the company plans to report about these developments from outside of Russia.

Said RFE/RL President & CEO Jamie Fly, “It is with the deepest regret that I announce the suspension of our physical operations in Moscow today. This is not a decision that RFE/RL has taken of its own accord, but one that has been forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth. Following years of threats, intimidation and harassment of our journalists, the Kremlin, desperate to prevent Russian citizens from knowing the truth about its illegal war in Ukraine, is now branding honest journalists as traitors to the Russian state. We will continue to expand our reporting for Russian audiences and will use every platform possible to reach them at a time when they need our journalism more than ever. Despite this bleak moment, we know from our organization’s 70-year history that one day, perhaps sooner than many think, we will be able to reopen a bureau in Russia. Time is on the side of liberty, even in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

Over the last week, nine of RFE/RL’s Russian language websites were blocked after RFE/RL refused to comply with the Russian government’s demands to delete information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Overnight on March 3-4, Russian authorities blocked access within Russia to websites run by RFE/RL’s RussianTatar-Bashkir, and North Caucasus services, including the Russian-language North.RealitiesSiberia.RealitiesIdel.Realities, and Caucasus.Realities sites. On February 28, Russia blocked access to two other RFE/RL websites, including Current Time, the 24/7 digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Since invading Ukraine, Russia has blocked a number of Russian-language websites producing news content from abroad, including Meduza, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America. The Kremlin has also blocked access to Facebook and Twitter.

The technical cause of the bankruptcy of RFE/RL’s Russian entity is its longstanding refusal to comply with Russia’s unlawful demand that every piece of RFE/RL’s Russian-language content—every video, every article, every tweet—be accompanied by a state-mandated warning that RFE/RL is a “foreign agent.” In the past year, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has issued 1,040 violations against RFE/RL that will result in fines of more than $13.4 million for its refusal to submit to this content-labeling regime. In addition, 18 RFE/RL journalists have been designated as individual “foreign agents.” On February 9, RFE/RL filed its final written submission with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), asking for a hearing to consider the merits of the legal case it filed in May 2021 challenging Russia’s “foreign agent” laws.

RFE/RL has been broadcasting to Russian audiences since March 1, 1953, when the first programs of “Radio Liberation” were directed at audiences in the Soviet Union. Between November 1988 and August 1991, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost” policies took hold, the Russian Service built up a network of as many as 400 people across the U.S.S.R. and over 40 people in Moscow. On August 27, 1991, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree giving RFE/RL accreditation and allowing it to open a bureau in Moscow; the decree was revoked by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002.