Russia bans investigative news outlet Bellingcat, brands it a security threat

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Russia on Friday banned investigative news outlet Bellingcat and its main local partner from operating inside the country, branding them security threats.

Netherlands-based Bellingcat exposed the Russian-backed soldiers behind the downing of Malaysian Airlines jet MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 and unmasked FSB agents sent to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in 2020.

Russia’s prosecutor general said the activities of Bellingcat its partner The Insider “posed a threat to... the security of the Russian federation.”

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Both will be added to Russia’s “undesirable” list, which bans them from operating in Russia and makes cooperating with them illegal for Russian organizations and individuals, he said in a statement.

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins dismissed the ban, writing on Twitter: “Bellingcat has no legal, financial or staff presence (in Russia), so it’s unclear how Russia expects to enforce this.”

The Insider is legally headquartered in Latvia, a move designed to protect it from Russian authorities.

It has worked with Bellingcat on most of the organization’s high-profile investigations over the last five years, which also include identifying and tracking the movements of the men behind the 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.

In a broad move to stamp out opposition and dissent, Russia has labeled dozens of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups as “undesirable,” and hundreds of domestic groups and journalists that oppose the Kremlin have been named “foreign agents.”

The crackdown has intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine in February - a campaign the Kremlin refers to as a “special military operation” - with almost all independent groups outlawed or forced into exile, and new laws that make criticism of the armed forces punishable with up to 15 years in prison.

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