Latvia shut down the local website of Russia’s foreign news channel Sputnik on Tuesday (29 March), calling the state media outlet a “propaganda tool” and questioning the credibility of its reporting on the Ukraine conflict.
Moscow set up Sputnik to promote its voice abroad, including in Latvia whose ethnic Russian minority accounts for around a quarter of its two million citizens.
“We don’t regard Sputnik as a credible media source but as something else: a propaganda tool,” Latvian foreign ministry spokesman Raimonds Jansons told AFP.
He spoke after the national Internet registry NIC suspended Sputnik’s right to hold the “.lv” Latvian domain name to which it had been posting articles in both Russian and Latvian since last month.
Russia’s foreign ministry called the decision “blatant censorship” and said “the Russian mass media adheres to the highest standards of professionalism and ethnics”.
Riga “once again, with the tacit inaction of leading human rights organisations, is ignoring its Convention obligations to ensure media pluralism and freedom of speech as it continues to target Russian mass media in Latvia,” the statement added.
The NIC made the decision after receiving a letter of concern from the Latvian foreign ministry, which drew attention to Sputnik’s coverage of Ukraine and routine denial of the country’s territorial integrity.
“We wrote pointing out our opinion that the fact that the head of Sputnik, Mr (Dmitry) Kiselyov is on the sanctions list of the European Union was something that needed to be taken into account” in the decision, Jansons said.
Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of waging an “information war” to justify its backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have triggered concern in Latvia and fellow Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania, which emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990s.
A small group of eight officials in the European External Action Service will engage in efforts to respond to massive Russian propaganda directed both at the home and international audiences.
Sputnik is an international multimedia service launched on 10 November 2014 by Rossiya Segodnya, an agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government, which was created by a Decree of the President of Russia on 9 December 2013.
Sputnik News absorbed the former RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia Radio and will produce news solely for foreign audiences in 30 languages covering 130 cities in 34 countries, according to its website. According to its chief Dmitry Kiselyov, Sputnik intends to counter the "aggressive propaganda that is now being fed to the world".