Ukraine bars, unbars Western journalists under Russia sanctions

By bne IntelliNews September 17, 2015

bne IntelliNews -


Ukraine's President Poroshenko has made a swift U-turn on a travel ban to the country imposed on three BBC and three other Western journalists amid an uproar at their inclusion in a new blacklist barring hundreds of Russian media workers and other individuals and entities.

BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg, producer Emma Wells and cameraman Anton Chicherov were removed from the list, publication of which had drawn instant condemnation of a "shameful attack on media freedom" by the British corporation and press watchdogs. 

"Freedom of the press is of absolute value to me," Poroshenko said in ordering the rescindment of the ban, his spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko wrote on Twitter on September 17. Tsegolko added that others targeted by the Ukrainian sanctions remained persona non grata, although media reports said that three more Western journalists were also "redeemed" from the blacklist soon after.

These were Germany's Michael Rutz, and Spain's Antonio Pampliega and Angel Sastre, who went missing in July during an assignment in Syria. Other journalists from several EU countries remained on the list. 

Under a decree signed by Poroshenko on September 16, the government imposed "personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions) for a period of one year" on more than 400 individuals and 90 entities in Russia and other countries "related to the annexation of Crimea and aggression in Donbas", the president's media office said.

While the move reflects tensions that escalated between Kyiv and Moscow in the past 18 months, the ban on the three BBC workers drew especially fierce objections by the British corporation. 

"These sanctions are completely inappropriate and inexplicable measures to take against BBC journalists who are reporting the situation in Ukraine impartially and objectively and we call on the Ukrainian government to remove their names from this list immediately," BBC foreign editor Andrew Roy was quoted as saying by the Guardian newspaper.

41 journalists and bloggers blacklisted

The New York-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement that Ukraine banned at least 41 international journalists and bloggers for one year as an "actual or potential threat to national interests, national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine".

"We are dismayed by President Poroshenko's actions, including a ban on dozens of international media covering Ukraine," said Nina Ognianova, the CPJ's Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator. "While the government may not like or agree with the coverage, labeling journalists a potential threat to national security is not an appropriate response."

Ognianova believes that Kyiv's move undermines Ukraine's interests by blocking vital news and reports that inform the global public about the political crisis wracking the country.

Apart from the UK, the ban affected journalists and bloggers from Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia, the watchdog said.

Banks and airlines hit

According to Russian media, 105 companies are included in the blacklist approved by Poroshenko, including Russian state-owned air carrier Aeroflot and some other air companies: Transaero, Ural Airlines, Siberia and Orenburg Airline, Gazpromavia Airline.

A total of 29 Russian banks are also affected, including Bank of Moscow and Gazprombank, which is controlled by the state-run Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom. As stated in the presidential decree, the Ukrainian sanctions foresee blocking of assets and "suspension of performance of economic and financial obligations", in particular, prohibition of credits, loans, financial assistance, guarantees; prohibition of lending through purchases of securities; and prohibition of the acquisition of securities.

Previous media reports said Gazprombank has in the past provided loans to Ukraine's state-controlled gas monopoly Naftogaz, as well as fertiliser producers owned by Ostchem, controlled by notorious oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

At the same time, the list does not include Ukrainian banks with Russian capital. Meanwhile, Interfax news agency reported that the National Commission for Securities and the Stock Market of Ukraine in July revoked the stock market operation licenses from a number of banks with Russian capital: Prominvestbank (97.85% belongs to Russia's Vnesheconombank), VTB Bank (99.97% is held by Russia's VTB Bank), local subsidiary of Sberbank of Russia, BM Bank (100% belongs to Bank of Moscow).

Antivirus software producer Kaspersky Laboratory and its Ukrainian subsidiary are also included in the ban list, as well as a number of Russian high-level officials: Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, his deputies Anatoly Antonov and Dmitry Bulgakov, Armed Forces Western Military District Commander Anatoly Sidorov, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev, State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev, and the head of the Federation Council Committee for International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev.

Cue actor "threat" Depardieu 

The extensive blacklist follows earlier bars placed by the Ukrainian security services on other unlikely individuals. In July, French-born actor Gerard Depardieu was branded a "threat to national security" after he made comments in support of his adopted homeland Russia, where he received citizenship in 2013.

Kyiv said that Depardieu along with 13 Russian singers and actors supported Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern parts of the country.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, the US actor Steven Seagal and Serbian singer Goran Bregović were also classed as persona non grata.

Ukraine previously also imposed a ban on more than 100 Russian films and TV shows, and all productions made since 2014, with the stated intention of protect its population from pro-Russian propaganda.

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