Russia-Ukraine war: Russia blocks foreign press, US sanctions oligarchs

A number of foreign companies and banks have suspended operations with Russia, but others like Coca-Cola remain in operation in the country.

Pedestrians walk past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in London, Britain, January 29, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS/FILE PHOTO)
Pedestrians walk past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in London, Britain, January 29, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS/FILE PHOTO)

Russia's communications watchdog has restricted access to several foreign news organizations' websites including the BBC and Deutsche Welle for spreading what it cast as false information, amid friction about reporting on Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly complained that Western media organizations offer a partial - and often anti-Russian - view of the world while failing to hold their own leaders to account for devastating foreign wars such as Iraq and corruption.

The watchdog said on Friday it had blocked the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle and other media outlets, Interfax news agency reported.

The BBC said it would not be deterred.

"Access to accurate, independent information is a fundamental human right which should not be denied to the people of Russia, millions of whom rely on BBC News every week," it said.

"We will continue our efforts to make BBC News available in Russia, and across the rest of the world."

Some users in Russia could not access the BBC's website on Friday.

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that the BBC was being used to undermine the internal political situation and security in Russia. 

"You have completely ripped off your masks of faithful proponents of ideals of democracy, revealing cheating essence of your human rights demagogy," Russia's Foreign Ministry tweeted Thursday, further accusing outlets in the EU, US and Canada of spreading fake news and working to "destabilize Russia."

Russia has also restricted access to the websites of Russian news outlets Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV, the latter of which is considered by Russia to be a foreign media agent, Interfax reported.

This comes after Russian news agencies such as Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik were blocked or are in the process of being blocked throughout many parts of the world. Ukraine requested Israel block these news outlets too, but Communication Minister Yoaz Hendel on Thursday reportedly refused to do so.

Corporate responses

Multiple corporations and organizations have suspended operations in Russia and, in some cases, Belarus in recent days due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This also comes after Russia has faced severe financial sanctions from the West, which has severely impacted the Russian economy and raised fears of an impending financial crisis.

US tech giant Intel announced on its website that it is suspending the supply and delivery of all its products to customers in Russia and Belarus.

IKEA announced they are pausing all operations in Russia and Belarus due to the invasion of Ukraine. This does not apply to the Mega shopping centers, which are part of IKEA. These will stay operational in order to "ensure that the many people in Russia have access to their daily needs and essentials such as food, groceries and pharmacies."

Luxury brands Hermes and Swarovski both announced they would suspend business operations in Russia, according to Ukrainian media.

The New Development Bank (NDB) established by the BRICS group of emerging nations said it has put new transactions in Russia on hold.

"In light of unfolding uncertainties and restrictions, NDB has put new transactions in Russia on hold. NDB will continue to conduct business in full conformity with the highest compliance standards as an international institution," it said in a statement posted on its website.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – known together as BRICS – are members of the New Development Bank.

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has also put all activities relatng to Russia and Belarus on hold, the bank said in a statement.

Google has also suspended Google Ads, including on YouTube, from Russia.

Ukrainian-owned American-based company Grammerly will no longer service Russian and Belarusian users, according to Ukrainian media.

Dockers in Britain have refused to unload a tanker of Russian gas, forcing it to dock elsewhere, the TUC union said on Friday.

The Boris Vilkitskiy was last seen in the English Channel and is now reporting its status as "For Orders" as of 0733 GMT.

The Guardian reported that the vessel had been on its way to the Isle of Grain in south east England with a consignment of liquefied natural gas for Centrica, the owner of British Gas.

Despite this, not all major businesses are suspending their ties with Russia.

Soda giant Coca-Cola, for example, has continued their operations in Russia, as reported by Russian news agency TASS.

The soda giant owns 10 factories in Russia.

US cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global COIN.O will not preemptively ban all Russians from using the platform, CEO Brian Armstrong said in a tweet on Friday.

Another cryptocurrency platform, Binance, said they wouldn't unilaterally freeze millions of Russian users' accounts, but that it would make sure to take action against those who were sanctioned.

Sanctions

Sanctions have been levied against several Russian oligarchs by the US, UK and EU. 

Recently, a number of oligarchs aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin have been sanctioned by the White House.

These include Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, Russians of Jewish-descent who made billions in gas and oil pipeline constructions; Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman of Jewish descent known as "Putin's chef" due to his restaurants and catering businesses having hosted Putin's meetings with dignitaries; Dimitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary; and Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek-born mining magnate famed as one of the wealthiest Russias. 

Also sanctioned are several family members of the aforementioned individuals.

These people will all be cut off from the US financial system, with their assets frozen and property blocked off. In the case of Usmanov, this property includes his superyacht, one of the largest yachts in the world, which was seized by Germany, and his private jet, one of the largest in Russia.

In addition, 19 other oligarchs and 47 of their family members and associates will be given visa restrictions.

Sanctions were also placed on seven Russian entities and 26 individuals who play roles in these entities. 

"These entities have spread false narratives that advance Russian strategic objectives and falsely justify the Kremlin's activities," the White House said.