Long before the Russia-Ukraine crisis began in February 2022 that also brought in related stringent sanctions by the United States and the European Union, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has unreservedly criticized Western and European media reporting about Russia. Reports issued, at separate times, have warned the foreign media of its biased and one-sidedness, presenting negative articles about Russia.
Quite recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “freedom of speech situation around the world is far from satisfactory. We encounter that all the time. Some Western countries break their international obligations and keep pressuring Russian media and their partners.”
The twists and turns, especially between Russia on one hand and the United States and Europe on the other side, Russia has reiterated its warning that the Western and European news organizations are risking being stripped of their accreditation. If the State Duma (the lower house) and Federation Council (upper house) approve the next package of legislations, foreign media representatives will face persecution for their unpleasant and biased reports.
President Vladimir Putin already signed a law in March imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military, prompting some Western media to pull their journalists out of Russia.
With the current existing situation, Moscow is fighting what it called “anti-Russian propaganda” by Western and European media. Practically, there is little media collaboration between Russia and the world. Due to consistent “tit-for-tat” attacks by Russia and external countries, foreign media work is crippled in the Russian Federation.
According to the Ministry’s information made available in March 2021, there were 271 foreign media offices from 57 countries in Moscow. These media organizations and foreign correspondents mostly come from the United States, Europe and Asia, with only a few from Latin America. Africa media is relatively unknown, except for Morocco and Egypt.
Some of the western and other foreign media that operate in the Russian Federation include Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, British Broadcasting Corporation, Agence France Press, Cable News Network, Deutsche Welle et cetera. But most of the Western media organizations have already shut down their offices and left Russia, only a few remain and continue to report.
Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of foreign journalists still work outside the Russian Federation to promote impartial media coverage that fuels geopolitical confrontation and hostility.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, some Russian state media have been prevented from operating in the United States and some other Western states by withdrawing their broadcasting licenses and sanctioning the outlets, steps Moscow says show a disregard for media freedom.
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, announced she was calling in the heads of U.S. media outlets to notify them of “the most stringent measures” in response to the “hostility” encountered by their Russian peers in the United States. She outlined the difficulties for Russian journalists there in foreign countries including visa renewals, blocked bank accounts and alleged harassment by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Zakharova warned the outlets that if Russian journalists were not able to work freely in the United States, then their reporters in Russia risked facing similar difficulties with their visas, media accreditation and bank accounts. Washington has imposed sanctions against some state-run Russian TV stations, which it says have spread disinformation to bolster Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian officials do not use the words “invasion” or “war”.
Many Russian officials including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Zakharova say Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of what they call Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine that ignores Russia’s concerns about the enlargement of NATO and the alleged persecution of Russian-speakers.
March last year, Lavrov, during an earlier informal meeting aimed at exchanging views on the issues that concern the media and the international community, has assertively asked foreign journalists to cover political and economic developments related to Russia both objectively and comprehensively.
Speaking to a cross section of foreign media outlets represented in the Russian Federation, he explained that “turning the information field into an arena of confrontation does not facilitate the creation of an environment demanded by the present situation.”
Lavrov told them: “We have been acquainted with many of you for a long time and met repeatedly at news conferences, during interviews and at different unofficial events. Our dialogue has always been very useful. The frank assessments that we hear from you via your questions help us to plan our information work and sometimes contain prompts for the positions we promote in the world arena.”
In its fourth month, Russia has engaged in “special military operation” to demilitarize and denazify its neigbouring former Soviet republic of Ukraine. It has resultantly pushed the United States and Canada, European Union members, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many other external countries to impose stringent sanctions against the Russian Federation.
Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.