Estonia has not excluded the possibility of banning Russian TV channel "RT", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday after Lithuania announced it would stop broadcasts. Latvia banned the channel in July.
Lithuania's media watchdog has banned the broadcast RT due to its connection with Dmitry Kiselyov, a journalist who is under EU sanctions for his role in promoting Kremlin propaganda during the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, the country's national broadcaster LRT reported on Wednesday.
Kiselyov, officially the head of Russia's state-controlled media group Rossiya Segodnya which includes RIA Novosti and Sputnik, is also considered to be in charge of RT. He denies the connection.
Estonia has previously banned Sputnik, while Latvia's media watchdog banned RT in July, calling on EU member states to follow suit.
However, Estonia has not announced what its plans are regarding the channel.
"Estonia does not exclude the possibility of taking additional steps in implementing the European Union's sanctions policy," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ERR News on Wednesday.
Estonia is implementing sanctions concerning Kiselyov for his central role in Russian propaganda justifying attacks against Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Delfi news portal on Monday (link in Estonian) he approved of Latvia's actions, but in order to take a similar step in Estonia, an analysis would need to be carried out. This would need to confirm that restricting the channels would be the right step to implement financial sanctions.
He emphasized that he was only speaking about pro-Kremlin channels, the beneficiaries of which could be found on the list of sanctioned persons, and not on the restriction of any Russian-language media.
"RT" was launched in 2005 and is a network of television channels which broadcasts in English, Spanish, Arabic and several other languages, distributing content consistent with the official positions of the Kremlin, Latvian broadcaster LSM reported.
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' full comment is published below:
"Estonia does not exclude the possibility of taking additional steps in implementing the European Union's sanctions policy.
"Estonia is implementing the European Union sanctions concerning Dmitry Kiselyov for his central role in Russian propaganda justifying attacks against Ukraine (including the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian federation's military activities in Eastern and South-Eastern Ukraine).
"Due to the personal sanctions against Mr Kiselyov, Estonian banks froze in October 2019 Rossiya Segodnya's payments. In December the Financial Intelligence Unit, responsible for implementing financial sanctions in Estonia, informed employees of Rossiya Segodnya, that knowingly working for or providing services to a person under sanctions could be a criminal offence.
"In June 2020, the Estonian Internet Foundation imposed a restraint on the disposition on two domains - baltnews.ee and sputnik-news.ee - registered to Rossiya Segodnya. The restraint on disposition means, that legal actions are forbidden - for example, the domain cannot be sold or transferred to another person and thus used as an economic resource.
"Initiated by Estonia, the foreign ministries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania asked the European Commission's opinion on implementing financial sanctions, the Commission replied on June 19, 2020 and the answer is available here.
"After the opinion was issued the Latvian media regulator also stopped transmission of RT (earlier known as Russia Today) TV channel. Estonia and Latvia are in constant communication regarding this issue. The Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit is analyzing information received from Latvian partners, legal framework and will formulate its position on the need to implement sanctions and on possible measures."
Sputnik ended operations in January
Sputnik Estonia's 35 employees ended their employment with the agency as of January 1, 2020. The Sputnik Estonia website continues to operate.
ERR News reported in November that sanctions against the Kremlin propaganda channel Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) are forcing the Russian state-controlled media portal Sputnik organization to move out of its rental space in Tallinn as Estonian banks do not accept Sputnik salary payments.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu told ERR in an interview that Russia is accusing Estonia of going after Sputnik to erode the EU's Russian sanctions policy.
Reinsalu (Isamaa) said: "But what I want to emphasize is that we have not taken measures against the portal's media content. They are financial sanctions aimed at economic activity. I believe it to be justified."
Rossia Segodnya is a news agency owned and operated by the Russian government whose name translates as "Russia Today." It should not be confused with RT, the Russian government-funded Russian international television network, which operated under the name Russia Today from 2005-2009.
Editor: Helen Wright