* Initial backing given to law on information about banks
* Opponents say big banks will be protected, depositors at
* Kremlin foes see legislation as part of media crackdown
MOSCOW, April 4 The Russian parliament gave
preliminary approval on Friday to legislation limiting
publication of information about banks, a move critics said
would protect powerful financial institutions but could harm
Opponents said the bill proposed by pro-Kremlin lawmakers
would deprive depositors of information they need to ensure
their financial security, and could be used to crack down on
Its passage in the first of three votes in the lower house
of parliament came after President Vladimir Putin promised
support for Bank Rossiya, a bank hit with U.S. sanctions aimed
at punishing him and his allies for Russia's annexation of
The legislation would enable federal prosecutors to block
any website deemed to contain knowingly false information about
banks, and impose fines of up to 1 million roubles ($28,300).
Proponents suggested it was needed to prevent banks from
being brought down by false information, undermining stability.
"Bankrupting a large financial institution is like shaking
the state's foundations and doing severe harm to its financial
system and the state itself," Anatoly Aksakov, a deputy in the
State Duma lower house, said before the vote.
"Sometimes we need to make serious decisions to prevent such
cases," he said.
Opponents said it would protect banks and the state while
increasing the risks faced by depositors. They voiced suspicion
the authorities would deem any information they feared would
undermine trust to be deliberately false in order to suppress
"No one needs (the law) except some owners of big banks,"
said Alexander Tarnavsky, a Duma deputy from left-leaning party
Just Russia. "It would be simpler to write that any negative
information about Russia's banking system is prohibited."
Some critics said they feared that the law would be used as
an instrument to shut down media outlets, part of what Kremlin
foes say is a clampdown on dissent that has intensified amid
Putin's standoff with the West over Ukraine.
"Undoubtedly, it is a repressive law," said Igor Yakovenko,
the former head of the Russian Union of Journalists. "Any
financial analysis about banks is becoming tabooed; it may be
found false ... The point of this law is that banks are always
right," he said.
The bill was approved in the first reading by a 245-92 vote
in the 450-seat State Duma with support from the ruling United
Russia party, whose chief loyalty is to Putin.
In a show of defiance against the West, Putin promised state
support for Bank Rossiya and said he would open an account there
after the United States imposed sanctions on it as punishment
for his policies toward Ukraine and annexation of its Crimea
($1 = 35.2870 Russian Roubles)
(Editing by Steve Gutterman and Mark Trevelyan)