Ukraine live updates: Panic grips some cities as Russia tightens cordon

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Ukraine live updates: Panic grips some cities as Russia tightens cordon

Russia on Friday called for legislation to punish President Vladimir V. Putin after 22 years in power, block access to Facebook and major foreign news outlets, and punish anyone who spreads “misinformation” about Ukraine. Work harder on news and free speech at any time than at any other time. Assault with imprisonment of up to 15 years.

The Kremlin scramble to contain dissent over the Kremlin war and control the narrative comes as Russia faces its most severe economic crisis in decades as a result of this week’s crushing of Western sanctions. Fearing prosecution, more independent Russian news outlets closed on Friday, and the BBC said it had suspended all of its operations in Russia.

Mr Putin signed a law that effectively criminalizes any public protest or the reporting of independent news about the war against Ukraine. Taking effect as soon as Saturday, the law could make it a crime to call the war a “war” – the Kremlin says is a “special military operation” – on social media or in a news article or broadcast. Announcements that legislation was coming had already pushed for the closure of Russian independent media outlets in recent days, and more followed on Friday.

In addition, the government blocked access to the websites of major Russian-language outlets inside Russia, which are located outside the country, and Facebook, a social network popular with the West-looking urban middle class, where many People have posted scathing criticism of Shree. Putin’s War.

Facebook, Russia’s internet regulator claimed, was engaging in “discrimination against Russian news media” by limiting access to pro-Kremlin accounts, including a Defense Ministry television channel. The decision was a blow to Internet freedom in Russia, where Western social networks have remained accessible despite Mr Putin’s creeping authoritarianism.

For now, accessible with popular Russian social networks such as VKontakte, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. But analysts expect the Kremlin to try and fail to block in 2018, exaggerating the importance of the messaging and social networking app Telegram.

Russian officials claim that journalists writing critically about the war – or calling it “war” or “invasion” – are undermining the national interest, even calling them traitors. are.

Parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, on Friday unanimously passed legislation criminalizing “misinformation” about the armed forces, and Mr Putin signed it later in the day. Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that under the new law, “those who tell lies and declare discrediting our armed forces will face a very harsh punishment.”

Few details about what constitutes the crime are given in the text of the new law, but Russian journalists and Kremlin opponents seem to imply that any contradiction to the government’s statements on the invasion could be regarded as a crime. In addition to criminalizing the sharing of “false information”, it “discredits” the use of Russia’s military in Ukraine, punishable by fines and imprisonment for sanctioning Russia from other countries or opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. opposes.

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It was not immediately clear whether the law would apply to people inside Russia – such as foreign correspondents – producing material in a language other than Russian. But another senior lawmaker said citizens of any country could be prosecuted under it, and the BBC – which has a large Russian language service in Moscow as well as an English language bureau – said it Stopping its operations inside the country.

“This law appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” BBC Director-General Tim Davey said in a statement. “We have no choice but to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation, while we assess the full effects of this unwanted development.”

Mr Putin remained silent on those developments on Friday. Instead, he held a televised videoconference with the governor of the Kaliningrad region, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, in which he tried to convey a sense of normalcy in the midst of the crisis.

“We see no need to escalate the situation or worsen our relationship,” Mr Putin said. “All our actions, if they are, they are, in particular, always, in response to malicious actions towards the Russian Federation.”

Mr Putin’s comments with the war in Ukraine seemed unrealistic, but they appeared to be a message to his domestic audience to show that they were not going to escalate tensions.

Tensions were felt this week by Russia’s community of independent journalists, who searched for ways to publish and circulate material critical of the Kremlin harshly despite Putin’s authoritarianism.

On Thursday, columns of Russia’s independent broadcast media, Moscow radio station Echo and TV Ren television channel were closed under state pressure.

Then, on Friday, the government said it would block access to Russian-language media produced outside the country: Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the websites of the popular Latvian-based news outlet Meduza. . Reason: systematic distribution of false information about it “special military operation on the territory of Ukraine”.

Russians will still be able to access blocked media through the Telegram messaging app, where many news outlets have their own accounts. Some people may even use a virtual private network or VPN to bypass restrictions.

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But independent news outlets based in Russia saw the threats so great that a growing number of them shut down. Znak, an independent news outlet covering Russia’s regions, closed its website on Friday with a statement that said: “We are concerned about the large amount of new restrictions on the functioning of the news media in Russia. suspending operations.”

Others tried to survive by telling their readers that they would no longer cover the war. Russia’s last major independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, said It was removing its material about the war in Ukraine. The Village, a digital lifestyle magazine that this week moved its operations from Russia to Poland, said it was retroactively editing its articles to change any mention of the word “war” to “special operations”. Was being

Until recently, Russia’s mostly uncensored Internet provided an outlet for Russians to express discontent and read news reports outside the Kremlin propaganda bubble that covered much of the country’s traditional news media. But amid the war in Ukraine, which has sparked protests across the country and online protests from Russians, the Kremlin sees the Internet as a new threat.

Echo of Moscow, a radio station founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and later acquired by state energy giant Gazprom, said Friday it would delete all corporate social media accounts and shut down its website as part of a “liquidation” process. will do it. By noon, its popular YouTube channel was gone. The longtime editor-in-chief of the radio station Alexei A. According to Venediktov, more than a million people tuned in to hear its programs each day.

“Echo is my home,” said journalist Irina Vorobyeva, who worked for more than 15 years at the radio station, in an interview on Thursday. “It’s home to a huge number of journalists, and it’s home to a huge number of our guests, who came here to talk about their opinions, to talk about things the world doesn’t know. Was.”

The situation was also a sea change for the 29-year-old independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has endured the killing of six of its journalists and whose editor Dmitry Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

In an email newsletter on Friday morning, one of the newspaper’s journalists, Nadezhda Prusenkova, wrote that it was hard to see multiple routes for the publication to exist.

“I don’t know what happens next,” she wrote.

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