Russia deems Moscow Times ‘undesirable,’ putting writers, sources at risk

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Russia has designated the Moscow Times, a leading English-language media outlet focused on covering Russia, an “undesirable organization,” effectively banning its operations within the country and exposing anyone collaborating with it to potential criminal charges.

“A decision has been taken to declare the activities of The Moscow Times, a foreign nongovernmental organization, undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Russia’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement Monday. It accused the outlet of “discrediting the decisions of the leadership of the Russian Federation in both foreign and domestic policy.”

Russian authorities have used the “undesirable” label to force independent media and civic organizations critical of the Kremlin from the country. Some of the strongest Russian investigative projects, such as Proekt, the Insider and Important Stories, have been similarly labeled in recent years, which severely limited their ability to report inside the country and exposed reporters and potentially their interview subjects to legal risks.

The “undesirable” classification forces organizations to cease operations in Russia and puts Russians who work for, fund or collaborate with them at risk of potential prosecution, with jail terms of up to five years.

The Moscow Times, which publishes in English and Russian, is the alma mater of many accomplished correspondents who cover Russia, including Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent jailed in Russia on espionage charges the United States has dismissed as fabricated, and Ellen Barry, who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow bureau chief in the early 2010s. The paper was established by Dutch publisher Derk Sauer in 1992, making it the first Western daily to be published in the country.

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The paper moved its office to Amsterdam in 2022 after Russia passed a package of laws restricting coverage of the invasion of Ukraine. A year later, the Russian Justice Ministry designated it as a “foreign agent” — usually the first step taken by the authorities to drive an organization out of the country.

Access to the paper’s website has been previously restricted in Russia, with authorities citing “systematic publication of socially significant false information aimed at discrediting the activities of state authorities of our country in conducting a special military operation,” a Kremlin euphemism for the war.

“This designation comes as no surprise — it was clear that our journalism, which is telling the world the truth about Russia and its war on Ukraine, makes the Kremlin uncomfortable,” Samantha Berkhead, an editor with the Moscow Times, told The Washington Post in a statement.

“Our jobs are going to become more difficult. Anyone in Russia who interacts with us in any way will now be at risk of criminal prosecution. But we refuse to be silenced,” she added.

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