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Ukraine leader imposes sanctions against 'pro-Russian' media

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has imposed sanctions against several opposition-supporting television and media companies his government accuses of being financed by Moscow and a Russian-leaning politician.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a news briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Pool/File Photo

A presidential decree, published late on Tuesday, said “special economic and other restrictive measures” would be imposed against Taras Kozak, a lawmaker from the Opposition Bloc faction, and eight media and TV companies.

The decree gave no reasons for the decision. Kozak is the listed owner of the three TV channels covered, which Ukrainian media said were associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent opposition figure seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“These media have become one of the tools of the war against Ukraine, so they are blocked in order to protect national security,” Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman Iuliia Mendel said on Facebook.

She said Ukraine had evidence the channels received funding from Russia. The channels have not commented on that accusation.

Zelenskiy said in a tweet that the sanction had been a difficult decision and that Ukraine supported freedom of speech but not “propaganda financed by the aggressor country”.

Kyiv and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and involvement in a conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, which Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

Kozak and Medvedchuk both condemned the move as illegal.

“President Zelenskiy threw 1,500 journalists and employees of three TV channels into the street and deprived millions of viewers of the right to receive objective information,” Medvedchuk said on his website.

The sanctions against Kozak were imposed for a period of five years and limit his ability to use and dispose of property and withdraw capital from Ukraine, as well as revoking the licences he holds for the TV channels.

The media organisations and TV channels are prohibited from broadcasting and their assets blocked.

“We regard this decision ... as a political reprisal against objectionable media,” channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZiK said in a joint statement.

All three channels went off air on Wednesday morning.

Ukraine’s move drew criticism from Russia.

“By shutting down opposition television channels, Zelenskiy acknowledged his inability to withstand political competition,” prominent Russian senator Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Alex Richardson