Sanctions loopholes and French news anchor help Russian disinfo, propaganda to stay on air in Europe
Eutelsat is in no hurry to shut down Russian state TV and radio companies, or the Russian Defense Ministry, in fact, it is dragging its feet and waiting for a political decision from the French government or the EU
A Russian-language Estonian online platform called Mozhem Obyasnit (We Can Explain) and the Verstka publication take a deep dive into the story in a joint investigation.
Russian TV continues to broadcast in Europe despite the sanctions. They are assisted by their longtime partner - French operator Eutelsat. It is quarter owned by the French government, and Russia also has a stake in it. Its share, apparently, is a sizable one comprising 4 out of the 5 satellites Eutelsat operates. Only one of them belongs to France, the rest are Russia’s, operated by Eutelsat but owned by Moscow.
Thanks to this network of five "shared" satellites, Russian state channels continue to broadcast in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Thus, using the Hotbird 13 satellite, people in Germany can still watch any Russian state broadcasting channels, for no charge.
In early May, CEO Eva Berneke said Eutelsat will remain "neutral" regarding the political conflict in which Russia was involved (she did not use the word "war"). She also said that the decision to exclude Russian providers remains a matter solely for the French authorities. So far, the French satellite company has stated that no regulatory or other competent authority has asked them to stop broadcasting.
Note that other operators have turned off the broadcasts of all Russian propaganda and disinformation channels, as they use satellites owned by the United States.
Their decision to stop broadcasting was sparked by a new package of US sanctions adopted in early May against pro-war Russian media. The White House explained that the sanctions apply to the three most popular Russian TV companies, which are directly or indirectly controlled by the state: Perviy Kanal (Channel One), the Russian State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK - Ed), (Russia-1, Russia-24, Kultura) and NTV.
EU sanctions did not oblige all countries to block all Russian state TV or radio broadcasting companies. The ban (in early March - Ed.) only specified Russia Today and Sputnik. As for the VGTRK, Brussels has so far only imposed sanctions on its leadership and staff. Therefore, formally, France is acting in accordance with the sanctions, but the government is in no hurry to completely block Russian propaganda and disinformation.
However, activists may push the government to move further on this issue. A petition against Russian propagandists using Eutelsat satellites is now being actively circulated in France. The idea is to kick the main Russian providers off Eutelsat satellites and replace them with others that broadcast independent international programs. Then the Kremlin's monopoly on information in Russia could be broken.
But there is another factor that could influence the operator's decision - US sanctions, which the company continues to ignore. However, if Eutelsat postpones blocking Russian channels that have already come under US sanctions, it risks falling foul of secondary US sanctions itself. So far, Washington has not applied them to anyone - it has only threatened several banks. But Eutelsat may be the first company to see those threats become reality.