The Russian government’s decision to shut down the operations of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle is unfounded and burdens German-Russian relations, Germany’s foreign ministry said on Thursday (3 February).
“The measures that the Russian government announced today against Deutsche Welle have no basis whatsoever and represent a renewed strain on German-Russian relations,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement.
Thursday’s announced decision was in response to Berlin’s ban on Russian broadcaster RT DE.
The foreign ministry said it rejected the comparison between Deutsche Welle and the broadcaster RT DE.
“If these measures are actually implemented, this will limit free reporting by independent journalists in Russia, which is particularly important in politically tense times,” the spokesperson added.
Moscow said it would stop the German channel being broadcast in Russia and start proceedings that would see it declared a “foreign agent”, a designation that carries a negative Soviet-era connotation.
The Russian foreign ministry also said it would bar entry to Russia for German officials involved in the move to ban RT DE.
Germany’s foreign ministry said Moscow’s measures had “no basis whatsoever and represent a renewed strain on German-Russian relations.”
“We firmly reject the comparison between Deutsche Welle and the broadcaster RT DE,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement.
Germany’s MABB media watchdog and Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) of media institutions said this week that RT DE could not broadcast in Germany using a Serbian licence, a decision that angered Russia.
In a statement on its website detailing its retaliatory measures, Russia’s foreign ministry described the German move as “unfriendly”.
The row comes amid broader tensions with the West over Ukraine that are an early test of political relations between Berlin and Moscow after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December.
The Kremlin said earlier on Thursday that a trip by Scholz to Moscow was on the agenda but that a date was not yet confirmed.
State-funded Deutsche Welle said it formally protested against the move and would take legal action. “We are being made a pawn here in a way that media only have to experience in autocracies,” Deutsche Welle Director Peter Limbourg said in a statement.
Hendrik Wuest, premier of North Rhine-Westfalia state where Deutsche Welle is headquartered, called Russia’s action “a massive and deliberate attack on the freedom of press, which we strongly condemn”.
German journalist association DJV called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately lift the ban on Deutsche Welle. “There is no justification for this drastic censorship measure,” said DJV chair Frank Ueberall in a statement.
The announcement on Deutsche Welle comes amid a crackdown on media outlets that Russia considers “foreign agents”. It uses the term to designate foreign-funded organisations it says are engaged in political activity.