3rd Dec 2023

EU sanctions add Russian writers who back the war

  • View of Kremlin with memorial to Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader murdered in 2015 (Photo: Jay Springett)
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The latest EU sanctions on Russia added more propagandists than earlier intended, in a sign of how dangerous Europe sees Russian media as being.

The new EU visa-ban and asset-freeze list, published on Saturday (25 February), added 87 individuals to what has now become a pile of 1,499 sanctioned Russians.

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These include eight pundits, writers, and journalists who publicly back the war: Marina Akhmedova, Evgenyi Bekasov, Yakov Kedmi, Alexandr Kots, Sergey Kurginyan, Nikolai Ivanov, Vitaliy Tretyakov, and Maxim Zamshev.

Bekasov, for instance, is editor-in-chief of the Rossiya 24 TV broadcaster, which the EU sanctions note called "among the most active and important instruments in spreading the Kremlin narrative supporting the war".

Kots writes for what the EU called "the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid".

Kurginyan writes books on politics, founded a neo-Stalinist movement called Essence of Time, "systematically questions Ukraine's territorial integrity", and "has called for Ukraine's occupation and denazification by Russia", the EU said.

Tretyakov, who is also dean of the Higher School of Television at M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, "systematically participates on pro-Kremlin [TV] propaganda programmes".

And Zamshev is editor-in-chief of a cultural weekly called Literaturnaya Gazeta — showing the breadth of support outside political circles.

The new names in the EU's 10th round of Russia sanctions included three media executives: Alexander Akopov (deputy CEO of National Media Group), Kirill Kleimenov (deputy head of the Pervyi Kanal TV outlet), and Kirill Vyshinsky (executive director of the Rossiya Segodnya media group).

The EU also added six Russian officials blamed specifically for propaganda or censorship.

These include Igor Ashmanov, a member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, who is also an "IT expert and entrepreneur" who helped pioneer the roll-out of the Internet in Russia.

They include Alexandr Brod, a member of the same presidential council, who "denied the responsibility of the armed forces of the Russian Federation for war crimes committed in Bucha [Ukraine], falsely blaming the Ukrainian forces for the massacre".

They also include Milosh Wagner, who is deputy head of Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and who was deemed "responsible for decisions that have led to limiting access to information for Russian society, the surveillance of Russian internet users and the closing of independent Russian media outlets".


All these names were added by the EU at the last minute — a draft 10th round sanctions list, dated 14 February and seen by EUobserver, named 63 new individuals instead of 87 and just two of the 63 were "propagandists" (two other Roskomnadzor deputy chiefs).

The EU had also listed other Russian media darlings and media firms in previous rounds of sanctions.

But the 10th-round propagandist designations came after EU diplomats met in Brussels with Vladyslav Vlasiuk, an aide to Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky, in the run-up to last weekend.

Ukraine itself has listed 500 Russian propagandists and the EU should do more on this front, Vlasiuk told press at the time.

"The war started also as a result of aggressive [Russian] propaganda and it's still going on in people's minds," he said.

Ukrainian pressure aside, the EU has made its own case for going after the Kremlin's sock-puppets.

Accompanying EU documents for the latest round of sanctions described Russian propaganda as "a significant and direct threat to the Union's public order and security".

Counter-propaganda listings "should be maintained until the aggression against Ukraine is put to an end", the EU said.

But under Europe's Charter of Fundamental Rights, "those measures do not prevent the media outlets and their staff from carrying out activities in the Union other than broadcasting, such as research and interviews".

The Russian embassy to the EU said Europe "explicitly violated" the charter's clauses on freedom of expression.

"Brussels is not only infringing on the rights of the Russian media representatives, but also on those of its own citizens," it said in a statement on Saturday, most of which concerned itself with the EU's media sanctions.

"The ЕU seems determined to totally isolate the Europeans [sic] from an alternative viewpoint. This way one can expect that tomorrow people in Europe will be cut off from any other sources of information that refuse to disseminate EU visions of pseudo-reality," it added.

Russian diplomacy

But for all its finger-wagging on free speech, it failed to mention that journalists and bloggers in Russia are now being jailed for breaking censorship on the war.

Meanwhile, Belgium and EU institutions booted out some half the embassy's staff on grounds of espionage last year.

And one of those expelled, Arseny Nedyak, an embassy "counsellor", was a lieutenant colonel in Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service and a communications specialist, whose job was propaganda co-ordination.

Nedyak "while at the EU mission, supervised the pro-Kremlin Russia Today, Sputnik, and bloggers broadcasting to European audiences", a source at Ria Novosti, a Russian state media, told the Dossier Center, a London-based NGO which hunts Russian spies in Europe.

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