HELSINKI (AP) — The Baltic nation of Latvia has banned the state-controlled Russian television channel RT, saying that it is effectively controlled by a media figure who is under European Union sanctions.
But the man in question, Dmitry Kiselev, mocked the move Tuesday, saying that he never was in charge of RT. He suggested that Latvia should apologize to the channel and put it back on air.
He has been on the EU sanctions list for his alleged role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
In all, the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council has banned seven channels belonging to the multilingual network operated by RT from being broadcast in Latvia, saying that RT was under Kiselev’s “effective control.”
It listed the channels as RT, RT HD, RT Arabic, RT Spanish, RT Documentary HD, RT Documentary and RT TV, charging that they have remained under Kiselyov’s effective control and his personal oversight.
In its ruling, the Latvian national media watchdog charged that RT attempted in its programs to present Latvia, a former Soviet republic of nearly 2 million, as a failed state.
Kiselev, who heads the state Rossiya Segodnya media group that includes the RIA Novosti news agency and the Sputnik news service directed at a foreign audience, derided the decision, pointing out that he has nothing to do with RT, which was formerly known as Russia Today.
While Rossiya Segodnya means Russia Today translated into English, it was RIA Novosti that had founded RT before Kiselyev took the helm, and the two organizations long have split.
“It testifies to the stupidity, incompetence and Russophobia of those in Latvia who make such decisions,” Kiselev said in an interview with Govorit Moskva radio. “I think the Latvians must apologize to RT and put it back on air.”
RT chief Margarita Simonyan on Twitter also ridiculed the Latvian claim that Kiselev is in charge of the channel.
“Latvian intelligence believes that Dmitry Kiselyov is in charge of RT,” she said mockingly. “We can fear nothing with that sort of intelligence.”
Along with being a news executive, Kiselev is a widely-known journalist and a TV presenter in Russia. He is subject to sanctions in all EU territory. Latvia said it would inform media regulators in other EU member nations of its decision and is urging them to also ban RT.
The action, made possible by amendments to Latvia’s electronic media law adopted this month, will take effect after it is officially noticed and will remain valid while Kiselev faces EU’s sanctions.
RT is widely seen in Latvia and in Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania as a Kremlin propaganda tool aiming to influence the region’s sizable ethnic Russian minority.
In past years, Latvia and Lithuania have temporarily suspended other Russian state television channels.
Vladimir Isachenkov and Jim Heintz contributed to this report from Moscow.