In the midst of the crisis surrounding the Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine, bilateral relations between Russia and Germany have reached a new low. The Russian authorities issued a broadcast ban on the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on Thursday. In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered the closure of the DW office in Moscow and the withdrawal of journalists’ accreditations. This is Russia’s response to a broadcast ban on the German-language program of its state broadcaster RT, formerly known as Russia Today.
The Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) at the media authorities announced the broadcasting ban for RT DE on Wednesday, citing the lack of a broadcasting license as the reason. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov then spoke of an “attack on the freedom of speech”. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, criticized the fact that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) did not say anything about the ban on broadcasting RT DE and in this case did not stand up for media freedom.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced further steps in a statement. It is feared that the Russian authorities could also take action against correspondents from other German media. The dispute had already played a role during the inaugural visit by Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) to Moscow in early January. Baerbock had emphasized that RT employees could work completely unhindered in Germany for years. RT does not receive a broadcasting license because it is a state broadcaster. This applies in principle and not only to a Russian broadcaster.
The Association of German Journalists (DJV) called on President Vladimir Putin to immediately lift the ban on Deutsche Welle broadcasting in Russia. In addition, all journalists of the German foreign broadcaster would have to get their accreditations back. “There is no justification whatsoever for this drastic censorship measure,” said DJV national chairman Frank Überall. With the action against Deutsche Welle, the authorities are following a suggestion from RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. Critics accuse RT, which is broadcast worldwide in multiple languages, of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation.
The conflict is causing additional tension ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) inaugural visit to Moscow on February 15. As with trips to Washington and Kiev, the focus should be on efforts to avert the danger of a Russian attack on Ukraine. Scholz wants to get more involved in crisis diplomacy. According to information from Süddeutsche Zeitung he will receive French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda for a crisis summit in Berlin next Tuesday. The three countries have been linked in the so-called Weimar Triangle for 30 years. Within the framework of NATO and the European Union, Poland is calling for clear deterrent signals to be sent to Russia.