The Russian government has cut off broadcasts of Voice of America after a leading state media figure denounced the U.S. government-funded radio as "spam on our frequencies."
VOA's contract with the Russian media oversight agency wasn't renewed after it expired at the end of March because the Kremlin could no longer tolerate "its subversive, sanctimonious, self-serving propaganda," the Voice of Russia said in its account of the cutoff.
The internal silencing of the broadcasts that beamed news and cultural programs into the Soviet Union during the Cold War represented the latest attempt by the Kremlin to eliminate media providing an alternative to those whose content and editors are controlled by the Russian government.
"We are not going to cooperate anymore," Dmitri Kiselyov, head of the Russia Today news agency, wrote in a March 21 letter to the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government agency in Washington that oversees VOA.
Kiselyov, one of a dozen influential Russian officials targeted by European Union sanctions last month, rejected accusations that denying a new license to VOA was aimed at stifling criticism of the Kremlin. Kiselyov said VOA had "nothing original to say."
"They sound like they are broadcasting from another world, at least from a world that doesn't exist anymore," Kiselyov said in the letter urging the government to refuse a new contract with VOA and a sister network. "I regard these radio stations as mere spam on our frequencies."
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a statement saying it was "disturbed by the latest Russian effort to decrease space for independent and free media in this country."
"In the last year, the Russian Government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications," the embassy statement said. "In the past few months alone it has blocked independent websites and blogs; turned the respected news wire service RIA Novosti into a propaganda service; denied visas and accreditation to foreign professional journalists; and forced leadership changes at several media outlets simply because those outlets dared to challenge the Kremlin's extremist policies."
In a letter replying to Kiselyov, the U.S. broadcasting board chairman, Jeff Shell, said, "Moscow chose the wrong path and decided to limit freedom of expression." But he said the U.S. programming would continue to be provided to Russians via Internet and satellite platforms -- the way many Russians already get an alternate view from the Kremlin's.
A Voice of Russia commentary cast the VOA shutdown as long overdue.
"The move is yet another indicator of the fact that the Russian Government, which has so far been patient as the US/NATO attempt to continue to surround it with missiles and continue to demonize everything Russian, is beginning to take serious measures to protect itself, its people and its allies," said the Russian state radio commentator, John Robles.
He described VOA as an "aging, recidivist Cold War propaganda machine seeking to stay relevant by creating its own bogeymen and brainwashing the masses to promote knuckle-dragging caveman policies of force and subservience."
Voice of America, which broadcasts in 45 languages to 164 million people worldwide, began beaming its news to information-deprived Soviets in 1947, when dictator Josef Stalin was imposing the Iron Curtain around Eastern Europe. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, VOA was granted a Russian government broadcast license and allowed to lease transmission facilities. That level of cooperation began eroding a decade ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed state controls on domestic and foreign media.