BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union banned Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik from broadcasting in the bloc, the EU’s presidency said on Tuesday (March 1), following a move by video-sharing platform YouTube to block the outlets’ content in the EU.
The EU’s move, due to come into force on Wednesday after publication in the official journal of the EU, comes as Brussels intensifies its sanctions regime on Moscow in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Representatives of the 27 EU member states also agreed to ban “certain” Russian banks from the SWIFT bank messaging system, as well as participation in projects co-financed by the RDIF sovereign wealth fund.
The United States and Western allies have sought to cripple Russia’s banking sector and currency with a barrage of sanctions.
They include cutting selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, and thus isolating from the rest of the world.
SWIFT’s system allows banks to communicate rapidly and securely about transactions – cutting Russia off is aimed at preventing it trading with most of the world.
European countries who were initially reticent about the SWIFT proposal, such as Germany and Italy, eventually came around. Both are highly dependent on Russia gas supplies.
Western measures that prohibit transactions with Russia’s central bank have also helped plunge the country’s economy into turmoil.
The rouble is down 27 percent against the dollar since the start of the year and is trading at more than 100 roubles per US unit, its weakest level on record.
Russians are consequently flocking to cryptocurrencies that operate on a decentralised network and therefore are not directly affected by sanctions.
‘Censorship, pure and simple’
The EU move to shut down RT and Sputnik broadcasting in the bloc was first announced on Sunday by European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The stations “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our Union”, she said.
Earlier on Tuesday, before the announcement out of Brussels, YouTube said that it had blocked RT and Sputnik in Europe because of the Russian invasion.
Both channels in Europe were being blocked “with immediate effect”, YouTube said in an email to AFP.
The state-backed media organisations are considered mouthpieces of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and stand accused of spreading misinformation about Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
YouTube’s fellow online giant Facebook took a similar decision on Monday by blocking content published by RT and Sputnik in the European Union.
Facebook’s parent Meta added fresh measures Tuesday, saying it would in coming days put warning labels on links from the outlets when users share or click on them.
On Tuesday, RT France lawyer Basile Ader questioned the legality of banning the outlet’s output.
“Banning a media organisation is an unknown notion in law and difficult to understand when it concerns a French media outlet (RT France) with 100 French journalists on its books!” said Ader.
In a statement, RT France said: “This block on social media is an act of censorship pure and simple, with no legal basis.” When Germany banned RT’s Germany service at the beginning February, the Deutsche Welle broadcaster was forced to close its Moscow bureau.
Britain is no longer a member of the EU, but its broadcasting regulator Ofcom on Monday announced 15 investigations into the “impartiality” of RT.
That came a week after the country’s culture minister urged Ofcom to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, arguing that it sought to spread “harmful disinformation”.