European Union under Commission President Ursula von der Leyen enforced sanctions Wednesday against Russia Today and Sputnik, two Russian state-controlled media organization, over their spread of disinformation and propaganda. Photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE
March 2 (UPI) -- The European Union on Wednesday formally sanctioned Russian state-owned news organizations Russia Today and Sputnik, suspending their distribution in the 27-member bloc over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The suspension will be in place until Russia ceases its aggression against Ukraine and the media outlets stop spreading disinformation to its member states, it said.
"In this time of war, words matter," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. "We are witnessing massive propaganda and disinformation over this outrageous attack on a free and independent country. We will not let Kremlin apologists pour their toxic lies justifying Putin's war or sow the seeds of division in our union."
Russia Today and Sputnik are under control of the Russian Federation, and officials have accused them of supporting the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine by spreading disinformation and of attempting to destabilize neighboring countries through propaganda.
The EU has accused Russia of conducting a systematic international disinformation and information manipulation campaign that includes targeting European political parties during election periods. The bloc also said Russia targets civil society, Russian minorities, asylum seekers and democratic institutions with its disinformation.
"Systematic information manipulation and disinformation by the Kremlin is applied as an operational tool in its assault on Ukraine," High Representative Josep Borrell said. "It is also a significant and direct threat to the union's public order and security."
The sanctions include the news organizations' distribution by all means of transmission, including by cable, satellite, IPTV, websites and smartphone applications.
Von der Leyen had first announced the move to sanction the media organizations on Sunday when the bloc unveiled a smattering of moves to punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including shutting down its airspace and the delivery of arms to Ukraine, which was its first-ever purchase and delivery of weapons to a nation under attack.
Since the EU's announcement on Sunday, Apple, YouTube, Facebook and TikTok have blocked access to Sputnik and Russia Today.
Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has called on Internet companies to reverse their decision, saying in a statement that the bans "violate the key principles of free distribution of information, unhindered access to it and are open censorship."
The EU on Wednesday also formally banned seven Russian back from using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system, also known as SWIFT.