* Kremlin criticises sanctions imposed on TV channels * Moscow and Kyiv at loggerheads since Crimea annexation * U.S. backs efforts to counter Russian influence (Adds comment by Medvedchuk, U.S. embassy and Kremlin) By Pavel Polityuk and Ilya Zhegulev KYIV, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has imposed sanctions on several opposition-supporting television and media companies his government accuses of being financed by Moscow and a Russian-leaning politician. 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 Platform — For Life faction, and eight media and TV companies. The decree did not explain the decision. Kozak is the listed owner of the three TV channels covered and Ukrainian media said they were associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, an opposition figure seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Zelenskiy said the move was necessary to counter "propaganda financed by the aggressor country". Kyiv and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its involvement in a conflict in eastern Ukraine. Kozak and Medvedchuk said the move was illegal. Medvedchuk told Reuters by telephone it was designed to deflect from Zelenskiy's falling political ratings and what they depicted as policy blunders on fighting poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic. "When political experts appear on the channels and interview citizens on the street, this infuriated the president," he said. "Ukraine is in a terrible economic, social and political crisis." U.S. SUPPORT, KREMLIN CRITICISM Supporting Ukraine's efforts to counter Russian influence, the U.S. embassy said: "We must all work together to prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an information war against sovereign states." Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision "does not correspond to either international norms and standards, or the general understanding of freedom of the media." Zelenskiy's spokeswoman, Iuliia Mendel, said the sanctioned media had become a tool in the war against Ukraine, adding that Ukraine had evidence the channels received funding from Russia. The channels have not commented on that accusation. The sanctions against Kozak, imposed for five years, limit his ability to use and dispose of property and to withdraw capital from Ukraine. They also revoke the licences he holds for the TV channels. The media organisations and TV channels are prohibited from broadcasting and their assets blocked. All three channels went off air on Wednesday morning. (Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Alex Richardson, Matthias Williams and Timothy Heritage)
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