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Kremlin defends media crackdown as more Western news organizations shut down

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Two more Western news organizations announced Saturday they were suspending operations inside Russia following the passage of a new law imposing fines and criminal penalties for publishing “fake news” about the invasion of Ukraine.

German broadcasters ARD and ZDF joined the BBC, CNN and other news organizations shuttering their Russia bureaus after President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday calling for up to 15-year prison sentences for what is deemed false reporting about the country’s military.

Russia, which is widely seen as having lost the narrative wars in the first week of fighting to the Ukrainian government, also blocked social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook on Friday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Saturday the new media laws were justified because of the “information war which was unleashed against our country,” according to the official Tass news service.

The official Russian line is that the 10-day-old war is a limited military incursion to protect pro-Russian separatists battling Kyiv and that few civilians have been killed in the fighting.

But U.N. human rights officials said Saturday they have confirmed some 351 Ukrainian civilian fatalities in the fighting. Te Ukrainian government has given much higher numbers of deaths.

Mr. Peskov also said that despite a breakdown in relations with the U.S. and the West, Mr. Putin’s government was still “maintaining certain channels of a dialogue with the United States.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a tour this weekend of NATO nations on the front line of the struggle in eastern Europe, said in Brussels Thursday that the Biden administration was still open to diplomacy to end the crisis, but only if Russian forces pull back.

“We’re keeping the door open to a diplomatic way forward,” Mr. Blinken said.  That’s going to be very hard to happen without military de-escalation.  It’s much more difficult for diplomacy to succeed when guns are firing, tanks are rolling, planes are flying.”

Mr. Blinken was in the southeastern Polish city of Rzeszow Saturday near the Ukrainian border, where many of the more than 1.4 million Ukrainians fleeing the fighting in their homeland have sought refuge.

He was meeting with top Polish officials and was scheduled to visit a checkpoint on the nearby Ukrainian border to meet with refugees later Saturday, the Associated Press reported.


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