Russia shuts DW’s local office, pulls staff accreditations

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday announced that it is shutting down the Moscow office of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle and withdrawing its staff’s accreditations, in retaliation for a German move against Russian state RT TV.

A ministry statement said the decision was “the first stage” of measures in response to Germany ordering RT to cease broadcasting its German-language programs in the country earlier this week.

The statement said Deutsche Welle will stop broadcasting in Russia, and staff accreditations to work will be withdrawn. It added that authorities will “initiate the procedure” of declaring Deutsche Welle a “foreign agent” — a designation that carries additional government scrutiny and strong pejorative connotations aimed at discrediting the recipient.

In the past year, dozens of Russian media outlets and individual journalists have been slapped with the “foreign agent” label, with some saying it has proved crippling for their operation.

The German broadcaster condemned the measures as “an absurd reaction” in a statement and vowed to continue operating in Russia until receiving an official notice.

“We had been expecting some measures by the Russian side but I think this is a total overreaction,” Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg told DW.

“It’s not even a tit-for-tat measure, if you want to see it like this,” he said, adding that one can’t compare RT, a government-funded broadcaster, and Deutsche Welle, a public service broadcaster.

And, he added, “Russian journalists will continue to work freely in Germany and can broadcast whatever they want, and this is not the case with our colleagues, so it’s really disappointing.”

Limbourg said the company will take legal steps “to see whether these measures are legal even from Russian standards.” He added that the broadcaster “will discuss this also, obviously, with our institutions here in Germany.”

He vowed that “even if we have to leave the country, we will intensify reporting on the country.”

Moscow will also compile a list of German officials and “representatives of public organizations” involved in banning RT’s broadcasting in Germany and bar them from entering Russia, the statement said. The list will not be released to the public.

A German media regulator ruled Tuesday that RT lacks the necessary permission to broadcast its German-language programs in the country.

The ZAK regulator, which decides on applications from private organizations to broadcast nationwide in Germany, said that no application has been made or granted for RT DE and it has “no other permit that is legitimate under European law.”

RT DE started broadcasting its programs via various channels, including its website and satellite, in mid-December, using a Serbian license. German media regulators then opened proceedings.

RT DE said Wednesday that its broadcasting is in line with European law, and said its Serbian broadcasting license, granted on Dec. 6, is valid until 2029. It said it will challenge the regulator’s decision in court.

There have been tensions between Germany and Russia over RT DE in recent months. In September, YouTube shut two German RT channels in a move centering on alleged coronavirus misinformation, a decision that drew threats of retaliation from Russia.

Last year, Luxembourg rejected an application by RT for a license to distribute its German-language service via satellite. Authorities in the country concluded that Luxembourg wasn’t the right jurisdiction to rule on the request because RT’s German service is based in Berlin and a significant part of its workforce is in Germany.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday called the ruling against RT “an infringement of freedom of speech.”

Deutsche Welle is Germany’s international public broadcaster. It is funded by taxpayers’ money but is editorially independent. It says that it provides content in 32 languages.

Deutsche Welle has held a broadcast license in Russia since 2005 for its DW English and DW German TV channels. The current licenses issued by Russia’s media authorities are valid until 2025 for DW English and until 2027 for DW German.

Germany’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, said the ban and the closure of Deutsche Welle’s Moscow office are “in no way acceptable.”

She said that equating the RT situation with Russia’s action against Deutsche Welle “lacks any basis.”

“RT DE is currently broadcasting without a license and has not applied for authorization,” Roth said in a statement. “That is a completely different situation than that of DW, whose license is now being withdrawn.”

Roth also noted that the German state exerts no influence on DW’s programming.

“I appeal urgently to the Russian side not to abuse the licensing law problems of RT for a political reaction,” Roth said. “There need to be clear steps toward de-escalation in the mutual relationship.”


Moulson reported from Berlin.