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Moscow Times, leading English newspaper, classified as “undesirable” in Russia

Moscow Times, leading English newspaper, classified as “undesirable” in Russia

Russia has designated the Moscow Times, a leading English-language media outlet focused on Russia-related reporting, as an “undesirable organization,” effectively banning its activities in the country and exposing anyone who collaborates with it to possible criminal prosecution.

“It was decided to declare the activities of the Moscow Times, a foreign non-governmental organization, undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement on Monday. It accused the newspaper of “discrediting the decisions of the leadership of the Russian Federation in both foreign and domestic policy.”

Russian authorities have used the “undesirable” label to expel independent media and civic organizations critical of the Kremlin from the country. Some of Russia’s strongest investigative projects, such as Proekt, The Insider and Important Stories, have been given similar labels in recent years, severely limiting their ability to report in the country and exposing reporters and potentially their interviewees to legal risks.

The “undesirable” designation forces the organizations to cease their operations in Russia and exposes Russians who work for, finance or cooperate with them to the risk of possible prosecution with prison sentences of up to five years.

The Moscow Times, published in English and Russian, is the alma mater of many veteran correspondents covering Russia, including Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who is imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges that the United States denies as fabricated, and Ellen Barry, who became the Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow bureau chief in the early 2010s. The newspaper was founded in 1992 by Dutch publisher Derk Sauer and was the first Western daily newspaper to be published in the country.

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The newspaper moved its office to Amsterdam in 2022 after Russia passed a package of laws restricting coverage of the invasion of Ukraine. A year later, the Russian Justice Ministry labeled the newspaper a “foreign agent” – usually the first step authorities take to expel an organization from the country.

In Russia, access to the newspaper’s website had already been restricted. Authorities justified this by citing the “systematic publication of socially significant false information with the aim of discrediting the activities of our country’s state authorities in conducting a special military operation,” a Kremlin euphemism for war.

“This rating comes as no surprise – it was clear that our journalism, which tells the world the truth about Russia and its war against Ukraine, makes the Kremlin uncomfortable,” Moscow Times editor Samantha Berkhead said in a statement to the Washington Post.

“Our work is becoming more difficult. Anyone in Russia who has any dealings with us now faces criminal prosecution. But we will not be silenced,” she added.