Russian ‘fake news’ law prompts media to suspend reporting as websites are blocked

Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a bombardment in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine, March 4, 2022, in this screen grab from a video obtained on social networks. Zaporizhzhya (NPP via YouTube/via REUTERS)

LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV — Russia on Friday blocked Facebook and some other websites and passed a law that gave Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign outlets to suspend their reporting in the country.

Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, the largest on a European state since World War II, has created more than a million refugees, a deluge of sanctions and fears of a global economic blow and a wider conflict in the West unthought for decades.

Fighting raged in Ukraine as Russian troops besieged and bombarded towns in the second week of an invasion that has isolated Moscow, which says its attack is a ‘special operation’ to capture individuals it considers as dangerous nationalists.

kyiv, in the path of a Russian armored column blocked for days outside the Ukrainian capital, came under renewed assault, with explosions audible from the city center. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was also seized.

The southeastern port city of Mariupol – a key hold for Russian forces – was surrounded and shelled. There is no water, heat or electricity and there is no food after five days of attack, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko.

“We are just destroyed,” he said.

Putin’s actions have drawn near universal condemnation and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West balances punishment with avoiding a widening conflict. Putin

In response to the information war, the Russian parliament passed a law imposing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for intentionally spreading “false” information about the military.

“This law will impose sanctions – and very severe sanctions – on those who have lied and made statements discrediting our armed forces,” said the speaker of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin.

Russia blocks Facebook for restricting state-backed channels and the websites of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

The BBC, Bloomberg News and other foreign media said they would temporarily suspend the work of their journalists in Russia while they assessed the situation.

A glut of global brands have halted operations or pulled out altogether, while shipping and supply chain issues have made it difficult to work in Russia.

French luxury fashion house Chanel said on Friday it was suspending all operations in Russia while tech giant Microsoft suspended sales of its products and services.

Samsung Electronics said it was suspending shipments to Russia and donating $6 million to support humanitarian efforts.

“DANGEROUS NEW STAIRCASE”

As the battle between Russia and the West intensifies on several fronts, the United States has warned that the conflict in Ukraine poses a threat to the rules-based order.

But at a meeting on Friday, NATO allies rejected Ukraine’s call for no-fly zones, saying they were increasing their support but that intervening directly could make the situation worse.

“We have a responsibility…to prevent this war from spreading beyond Ukraine, because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and cause even more human suffering,” said the secretary general of the NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the summit “weak” and “confusing”. “It was clear that not everyone sees the battle for Europe’s freedom as the number one goal,” he said.

He will participate in a Zoom call with the US Senate on Saturday.

A humanitarian disaster is also brewing, with more than a million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and neighboring countries.

An attack on the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, the largest in Europe, about 225 km west of Mariupol, brought the conflict to a perilous moment.

As shells hit the area, a training building caught fire – setting off a spasm of alarm around the world before the blaze was extinguished and officials declared the facility safe.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world narrowly avoided a nuclear catastrophe.

The attack reflects a “dangerous new escalation” in the Russian invasion, she told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, warning that “imminent danger” persisted and demanding assurances from Moscow that such an attack would not happen again.

An official from Energoatom, the Ukrainian operator of the nuclear power plant, told Reuters the fighting had stopped and radiation levels were normal. But his organization no longer had contact with plant officials or control over its nuclear materials, he said.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi said the plant was not damaged by what he believed to be a Russian projectile. Only one of its six reactors was operating, at around 60% capacity.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. He blamed the fire on an attack by Ukrainian saboteurs and said his forces were in control.

The plant and adjacent territory were now guarded by Russian troops, Moscow’s UN envoy said.

DEFEND kyiv

Moscow denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and says its aim is to disarm its neighbor, counter what it sees as NATO aggression and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis.

Ukraine and its Western allies call it a baseless pretext for a war to conquer a country of 44 million people.

More EU sanctions were to come, potentially including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber, aluminum or coal, the Irish minister said of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

The United States is weighing cuts to Russian oil imports and ways to minimize the impact on global supplies and consumers as lawmakers fast-track a bill that would ban Russian energy imports entirely.

In the Borshchahivka district of kyiv, the twisted engine of a cruise missile lay in the street where it had apparently been shot down overnight by Ukrainian air defenses.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said an advance had been halted on the southern port of Mykolaiv. If captured, the city of 500,000 would be the largest to fall.

Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they this week captured their first major Ukrainian city, Kherson. Shelling has worsened in recent days in the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

Ukrainians fled west, many crowding into Lviv near the Polish border.

James Elder of the UN children’s agency said doctors in Lviv were preparing a system to identify children in the event of mass casualties.

“A green dot means good here, a yellow dot means critical support. They learn that a black dot means the child won’t do it,” he said.

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