Ukraine’s Zelensky bans three pro-Russia TV channels

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has banned three pro-Russian television channels in a move the presidency said was aimed to stave off Kremlin propaganda. 

The ban came into effect in the early hours of Wednesday after Zelensky issued a decree imposing sanctions against pro-Russian lawmaker Taras Kozak and eight of his companies, including the three TV stations.

The channels — 112 Ukraina, Zik TV and NewsOne TV — are formally owned by Kozak, but are also linked to powerful MP Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky’s decree late Tuesday did not provide grounds for the ban, but his spokeswoman described the three television channels as “a propaganda tool” and said they receive funding “from Russia”.

“These media have become one of the tools in the war against Ukraine, so they are blocked in order to protect national security,” Yuliya Mendel wrote on Facebook.

Critics say the move, which came a day after another former Soviet republic Latvia dropped several Russian television channels, stifles free speech.

Zelensky responded on Twitter Wednesday, saying his country supports freedom of speech, “not propaganda financed by the aggressor”.

The banned TV channels, which as of Wednesday had been dropped by most cable networks, hit out at what they saw as “political reprisals against objectionable media”.

The situation in the country will not improve if Zelensky shutters “undesirable” channels, they said in a joint statement published on the 112 Ukraina TV channel’s website.

Ukraine since 2014 has been fighting separatists backed by the Kremlin in its east following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Zelensky came to power in 2019 partly on promises to end the war.

But his failure to swiftly fulfil that commitment among others has seen his and his ruling party’s approval ratings plummet in recent months.