Russia’s fake news law prompts media to stop reporting as websites have been blocked

Servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine can be seen at their positions outside the settlement of Makariv, near Zhytomyr
Servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen on a tank at their positions outside the settlement of Makariv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, near Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin

March 5, 2022

By Pavel Polityuk and Aleksandar Vasovic

LVIV/Kyiv, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia blocked Facebook and some other websites and passed a law giving Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media outlets to suspend reporting in the country .

On Saturday, Ukraine was at war for a 10th day as Russian troops besieged and bombed cities in the biggest attack on a European nation since World War II.

The fighting has spawned over 1 million refugees, a barrage of sanctions increasingly isolating Moscow, and fears in the West of a broader global conflict unthought of in decades.

Moscow says its invasion is a “special operation” to capture those it sees as dangerous nationalists and has denied attacking civilians.

According to Ukraine’s state-run Special Communications and Information Protection Service, Russian forces have focused their efforts on encircling Kyiv and Kharkiv, the second largest city, while aiming to establish a land bridge to Crimea.

Kyiv, on the path of a Russian tank column that had been stuck outside the Ukrainian capital for days, came under renewed attack, with explosions heard from the city centre.

Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne quoted authorities in Sumy, some 300 km (190 miles) east of Kyiv, as saying there was a risk of fighting on the city’s streets and urging residents to stay in shelters.

Russian forces have also encircled and shelled the southeastern port city of Mariupol — a key loot. According to Mayor Vadym Boychenko, there is no water, heating or electricity and food is running out.

“We’ll just be destroyed,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin’s actions have been condemned almost universally, and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West weighs punishment against avoiding widening the conflict.

In a bid to fight back in the information war, Russia’s parliament on Friday passed a law providing for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.

“This law will punish – and punish very severely – those who lied and made statements discrediting our armed forces,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, leader of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

Russia blocks Facebook for restricting state-supported channels and the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America websites.

CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed the name lines from Russia-based journalists as they assessed the situation.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to urge Washington for more help in a Zoom call with the entire US Senate at 9:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT) on Saturday.

The United States is considering cuts in Russian oil imports and ways to minimize the impact on global supplies and consumers, while lawmakers speed up legislation that would ban Russian energy imports. Global oil prices rose over 20% this week on fears of supply shortages, posing a risk to global economic growth.

At a meeting on Friday, NATO allies rejected Ukraine’s appeal for no-fly zones, saying they would increase their support but direct intervention could make the situation worse.

“We have a responsibility … to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be more dangerous, more devastating and cause more human suffering,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Zelenskyy described the summit as “weak” and “confused”.

“It was clear that the fight for Europe’s freedom is not the number one goal for everyone,” he said.

More EU sanctions would come, possibly including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber, aluminum or coal, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that talks with Ukraine on a peaceful end to the conflict “did not start from the beginning,” Tass news agency said.


A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding with more than 1 million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Thousands of people waited for hours outside the train station in the western city of Lviv on Friday to board trains bound for Poland. Families came with few belongings. Some were in wheelchairs, others with dogs and cats, unsure of their fate.

“All we took with us is the bare minimum,” said Yana Tebyakina. “A change of clothes. That’s it. We left everything else behind, our whole lives stayed at home.”

A Friday attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, about 230 km west of Mariupol, brought the conflict to a dangerous moment, but officials later said the plant was safe.

The plant and the adjacent area are now being guarded by Russian troops, Moscow’s envoy to the United Nations said.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world had narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe.

The attack reflects a “dangerous new escalation” in the Russian invasion, she said during an emergency UN Security Council meeting, demanding assurances from Moscow that such an attack would not be repeated.

Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they captured their first major Ukrainian city, Kherson, this week. The bombing raids in the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv have intensified in recent days.

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said an advance on the southern port of Mykolayiv had been halted. If captured, the city of 500,000 would be the largest yet to fall.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan, Costas Pitas and Kim Coghill; Editing by Frances Kerry, Jon Boyle, Toby Chopra, Daniel Wallis and William Mallard) Russia’s fake news law prompts media to stop reporting as websites have been blocked

Bobby Allyn

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