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Latvia bans exiled Russian news channel over ‘threat to national security’

Latvia has withdrawn the broadcasting licence of exiled Russian news channel TV Rain following accusations that its journalists violated laws and spoke out in support of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ivars Āboliņš, head of the Latvian media regulator, said on Tuesday that the channel would be banned from the Baltic country’s cable networks because it created “a threat to national security and the social order”.

Though TV Rain said it planned to continue its broadcasts on YouTube as it seeks a new home, Āboliņš said the online outlet would be blocked in the country as well.

Riga’s decision to ban TV Rain shows how tensions have surged between Russians fleeing a crackdown on dissent and the countries where they have settled, and illustrates the difficulties for Kremlin opponents of operating in a country with bitter memories of Soviet occupation. The ban comes into effect on Thursday.

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Tikhon Dzyadko, TV Rain’s editor-in-chief, said on the channel that Latvia’s decision was “absurd and has nothing to do with common sense.”

Latvia is one of the EU’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. Senior cabinet members have called for TV Rain’s journalists to be deported, while its secret services are investigating them for signs they could be covert Russian spies — suggestions that have been dismissed by the reporters, who fled Russia to escape prosecution for their antiwar stance.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said on Tuesday: “People always think they’re better off somewhere else than at home, and that there’s freedom there, and unfreedom at home. This is a clear example that shows these illusions are mistaken.”

Latvia initially welcomed hundreds of Russian journalists, giving them visas and helping them set up legal entities to continue reporting on the Ukraine war.

But when TV Rain resumed broadcasting from a new headquarters in Riga in July, it quickly became a flashpoint for accusations that even antiwar Russians facing censorship and prosecution at home were both insufficiently supportive of Ukraine and respectful of Latvia.

The trigger to ban TV Rain came last week when Alexei Korostelyov, a news anchor, asked Russians drafted into the army and their relatives to send information about their often dire living conditions. The grim news from the front has been an important topic for independent outlets like TV Rain, which have reported on men being press-ganged into fighting, forced to buy basic equipment and slaughtered en masse in artillery strikes.

But Korostelyov provoked an outcry by saying TV Rain hoped “we have been able to help many servicemen with things like equipment and basic comforts” — a sign taken in Latvia that even exiled Russians supported the war effort.

Dzyadko said Korostelyov’s comments “do not reflect the position of the channel,” which he said TV Rain had proved by firing him.

Though the channel quickly apologised and fired Korostelyov, the incident capped tensions that had been evident since the channel started broadcasting in Latvia. TV Rain was under investigation for two incidents apparently demonstrating its support for Russia — calling Russia’s armed forces “our army” and showing a map of Russia with the Crimean peninsula, which Putin annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Āboliņš said TV Rain had also ignored a requirement to display Latvian subtitles and complained its leadership did not bring a Latvian interpreter to a hearing about the first two offences in October.

Ahead of parliamentary elections that month, Latvia barred most Russians from receiving residence permits, moved to curb the use of Russian in public settings, and led a push to limit Russians from entering the EU.

“We thought this is a complete nightmare from all sides and that everyone would turn away from us — the Ukrainians, the Latvians. And they have,” Natalia Sindeyeva, the channel’s founder, told Meduza, another Riga-based exiled Russian news site.


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