RFE/RL Suspends Operations In Russia Following Kremlin Attacks

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.

It also comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that could subject any journalist who deviates from the Kremlin’s stance on the Ukraine war to a 15-year prison sentence.

RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly said that the decision “has been forced upon” the company “by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth.”

He said RFE/RL will continue to expand its reporting for Russian audiences and “will use every platform possible to reach them at a time when they need our journalism more than ever.” Both he and Andrei Shary, director of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, vowed that RFE/RL will continue reporting on the war.

The bankruptcy proceedings stem from Russian media regulations requiring RFE/RL and other media outlets deemed so-called “foreign agents” to mark themselves as such with a lengthy notice in large text for all written materials, an audio statement with all radio materials, and a text declaration with all video materials.

RFE/RL has refused to comply with this mandate or pay the millions of dollars in fines that have piled up and rejected the “foreign agent” label, saying it connotes that it is an enemy of the state.

"We are nobody’s agent, and we considered -- and continue to consider -- this labeling demand to be censorship, an attempt to interfere in editorial policy," Andrei Shary, director of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, said in a statement to readers on March 6.

RFE/RL's Ukraine Live Briefing gives you all of the latest on Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. The Live Briefing presents the latest developments and analysis, updated throughout the day.

Shary linked the timing of the bankruptcy proceedings to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the new law signed by Putin that took effect on March 5 and allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who distribute "false news" about the Russian Army.

"The fact that [the legal entity behind RFE/RL's Moscow bureau] is being liquidated at precisely this moment -- not earlier, not later -- shows that this is a purely political decision, taken because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine," Shary said.

Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has ordered media to only publish information provided by official sources. It has also forbidden media from describing Russia’s unprovoked actions as an invasion or a war, instead insisting that they are called "special military operations."

"We call this war a 'war,' and not a 'special operation,'" Shary said. "And we call it this for one simple reason: Journalism requires an accurate and honest definition of things."

He added that RFE/RL’s Russian Service "has been working for nearly 70 years and has seen it all." He assured readers that it will continue to report on the war from outside Russia.

"You can believe that even under a new set of circumstances we will be here to tell you, rationally and truthfully, and how things really are in Russia and the world. We’ve always found a way “over the barriers.”

Fly said RFE/RL will continue to expand its reporting for Russian audiences and “will use every platform possible to reach them at a time when they need our journalism more than ever.”

RFE/RL journalists have endured “years of threats, intimidation, and harassment," he said in a statement on March 5. 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.”

Major international broadcasters, including BBC News, CNN, Bloomberg News, the Canadian national broadcaster CBC, and Germany's ARD and ZDF have also decided to suspend their operations..

Russian authorities have intensified pressure on media outlets, threatening them for their reporting about the invasion on topics such as the heavy resistance being put up by Ukrainian forces despite Russia's overwhelming military power.

On March 3, one of the most popular media outlets in the country, the Moscow-based the Ekho Moskvy radio station, said it would be closing, at least temporarily, after being taken off air this week over its coverage of the invasion.