YouTube has blocked Russia’s RT and Sputnik in Europe over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the video-sharing platform said on Tuesday, as the European Union prepares to ban the state-backed broadcasters. RT and Sputnik’s YouTube channels in Europe are being blocked “with immediate effect”, YouTube said in an email to AFP.

The state-backed media organisations are considered mouthpieces of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and stand accused of spreading misinformation about Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

YouTube’s fellow online giant Facebook took a similar decision on Monday by blocking content published by RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday announced they and their subsidiaries would be banned from broadcasting in the bloc for spreading “lies to justify Putin’s war”.

The EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said the two organisation’s exclusion would be decided on Tuesday, “whatever their distribution channel may be”.

“It’s a question of banning the Kremlin’s media machine from the entire European Union,” he told French radio station RTL on Tuesday, saying the measure would apply as soon as a decision was taken.

RT and Sputnik’s YouTube channels were no longer viewable after the announcement on Tuesday morning and replaced with the message: “This channel is not available in your country”.

‘Act of censorship’

Breton said the measure would be enforced under the bloc’s new sanctions regime, but others have doubted the ban’s legality.

“The question I’m asking myself is how a decision taken at the European level can be applied in the national law of each member state,” Maxime Audinet, author of a book on RT, told AFP.

France is the only EU member to have an RT subsidiary with a broadcasting licence.

“Banning a media organisation is an unknown notion in law and difficult to understand when it concerns a French media outlet (RT France) with 100 French journalists on its books!” said RT France lawyer Basile Ader.

“This block on social media is an act of censorship pure and simple, with no legal basis,” RT France said in a statement.

Outside France, Audinet said a ban would concern RT’s English and Spanish channels based in Moscow, which follow rules set by Russia’s media regulator.

Germany suspended RT’s German-language service in late 2021, contesting the Serbian licence it used for broadcasting.

The move against RT and Sputnik is the latest in a series of severe sanctions the West has imposed against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

These have included banning Russian planes from European airspace, freezing the assets of leading Russian businessmen and cutting off banks from the interbank messaging system SWIFT.

The sanctions are aimed at crippling the Russian economy and Moscow’s ability to wage war, with the assault on Ukraine into its sixth day on Tuesday.

Russia’s central bank hiked interest rates to 20 percent and the ruble’s value collapsed on Monday as Putin eyed emergency measures to weather the economic storm.

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