Despite the condemnation by international organizations of a blatant infringement on press freedoms, the US has defended Kiev’s raid on the office of RIA Novosti news agency as a legitimate fight against “Russian propaganda.”
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) raided RIA Novosti Ukraine headquarters on Tuesday and detained the head of the web portal, Kirill Vyshinsky. The crackdown was condemned by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Washington, however, embraced it, invoking the traditional Russophobic mantra of fighting Kremlin’s “propaganda.”
“We understand that Ukraine, like a lot of other countries, has been concerned about intense propaganda,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told journalists on Tuesday. “Goodness, when we talk with a lot of our allies and partners overseas, they certainly have fallen victim and understand the influence and the reach of Russian propaganda. So we do understand Ukraine’s concerns about that.”
“The arrests of journalists or searches taken of media outlets, if that is done, it has to be done in accordance with the law. It is something that includes international human rights law,” Nauert added.
As a justification for the raid, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko called the editorial policy of RIA Ukraine and Vyshinsky in particular “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” In a Facebook post, he accused the news agency of being the “descendants of Goebbels” that are engaged in “disinformation war.”Vyshinsky, who holds both Ukrainian and Russian passports, is being accused of visiting the Crimean peninsula and receiving an award from President Putin.
However, OSCE and CPJ disagreed with the narrative from Kiev and the State Department, calling on Ukrainian authorities to stop their witch hunt against Russian journalists.
“I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir noted Tuesday.
He reminded Kiev that under Helsinki Final Act, the OSCE members are obliged to provide safe conditions for journalists to operate in the country. “This applies to the accreditation of journalists and correspondents of foreign media,” he added.
“We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.”
While Kiev continues to its “pre-trial investigation” against RIA Ukraine and Vyshinsky, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the crackdown on journalists, echoing an earlier statement by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who called Tuesday’s raids “outrageous.”
“Kiev authorities have any respect for the international media whose position does not suit Kiev,” spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “We have taken note of the escalation in the Ukrainian authorities’ repressive activities in the information space, ranging from attacks on and deportation of Russian and foreign journalists from Ukraine to provocations against Russian diplomats on international media platforms.”
Zakharova also criticized the Western states and international organizations for not paying enough attention to crackdown on the press in Ukraine.
“We believe that this forbearance directly threatens the future of the common European space because it is promoting the suppression of dissent in the worst totalitarian traditions,” the spokesperson added.