KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has shut several television channels owned by a Russia-linked magnate in what the nation's president described Wednesday as a necessary move to fight Kremlin propaganda.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said stopping the broadcasts and blocking the assets of the three channels was a “difficult” but necessary decision.
“Ukraine strongly supports freedom of speech,” Zelenskiy tweeted. “Not propaganda financed by the aggressor country that undermines Ukraine on its way to the EU and EuroAtlantic integration. Fight for independence is fight in the information war for truth and European values.”
Ukraine has been locked in a tug of war with Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and cast its support behind pro-Moscow insurgents in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, now in its seventh year, has killed more than 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's industrial heartland.
The now-blocked 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK channels belong to businessman Viktor Medvedchuk. He has friendly personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk's daughter. Medvedchuk supports the Opposition Platform for Life, a political party that is popular in Ukraine's southeast and holds a minority in the Ukrainian parliament.
Zelenskiy spokeswoman Iuliia Mendel said that Medvedchuk's media assets have been blocked for reasons of national security because they have served as “one of the instruments of war against Ukraine.” Mendel said on Facebook that authorities confirmed the assets were bankrolled by Russia.
The three blocked TV channels issued a statement denouncing the ban as “political repression.” Medvedchuk called the presidential order illegal and said he would appeal.
“With one stroke of a pen, Zelenskiy threw out 1,500 journalists and other employees of the three stations into the street and deprived millions of people of the right to receive objective information,” he said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy voiced support for Ukraine’s efforts “to counter Russia’s malign influence, in line with Ukrainian law, in defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“We must all work together to prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an information war against sovereign states,” it said in a statement on Facebook.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the blocking the three stations as a violation of media freedom and of international standards.
“The authorities' decision to impose such restrictions on the media should be in the focus of attention of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international organizations,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.