MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s communications regulator on Saturday ordered independent media to remove reports describing Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as an “assault, invasion, or declaration of war” or face being blocked and fined.
As Russian forces moved into Kyiv, Moscow’s defense ministry also said that Russian media should stick to the official version of events.
In a statement, the communications watchdog accused a number of independent media outlets of spreading “unreliable socially significant untrue information” about the shelling of Ukrainian cities by the Russian army and civilian deaths.
These included television channel Dozhd and the country’s top independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor Dmitry Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
On Thursday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine that according to Kyiv has already killed 198 people including three children and sparked fears of a greater conflict in Europe.
Citing a request from the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Russian communications regulator said the media outlets — that also include Echo of Moscow radio — will be blocked unless they remove the “unreliable information.”
“Roskomnadzor also launched an administrative investigation into the dissemination of unreliable publicly significant information by the above-mentioned media,” the watchdog said, referring to the agency responsible for monitoring Russian media.
The offense is punishable by a fine of up to five million rubles ($60,000), it said.
Roskomnadzor also said that “reliable information” could be found in “official Russian information outlets.”
Western nations consider such outlets and their reporting to be far from reliable.
The Russian defense ministry followed suit, calling on the media “to be vigilant and not become blind victims of Western curators (leading) information pressure on our country.”
The ministry singled out Novaya Gazeta, accusing it of spreading “fake information prepared by a stoned gang of (Ukrainian) nationalists.”
Its statement echoed Putin, who called Kyiv’s leadership a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis” on Friday.
Novaya Gazeta published its Friday issue in Russian and Ukrainian in solidarity with Ukraine.
“We will never recognize Ukraine as an enemy and the Ukrainian language as the enemy’s language,” its editor Muratov said in a video.
Moscow has not yet provided any details of Russian losses in the fighting in the face of statements from Kyiv that they have inflicted heavy casualties on Moscow’s forces.
Protesters took to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and across Russia on Friday to decry the invasion of Ukraine, even as authorities sought to suppress the spreading antiwar sentiment and project an image of strength and righteousness.
The OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests counted 437 detentions in 26 Russian cities, including 226 in Moscow and 130 in St. Petersburg. In Moscow, police were also detaining random people who were just passing by, according to media reports.
The rallies on Friday night appeared smaller than on Thursday, when thousands took to the streets across Russia. A total of 1,820 demonstrators were detained in 58 Russian cities on Thursday night, including 1,002 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info.