How Eutelsat, a French satellite operator, helps keep the Russian TV propaganda machine online

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“If European authorities impose new sanctions on Russian channels, we will stop broadcasting them,” the company said. He added: “At this stage, no regulator or other competent authority has asked us to stop broadcasting private Russian TV channels in Russia.”

Philipoff and Lange turned their appeal to politicians, but with minimal effect. “We sent letters to all French MEPs in the European Parliament,” says Lange. “Not a single answer.”

How, exactly, Paris or Brussels could force Eutelsat to block these Russian channels is an open question. Lange and Philipoff say that while the European Parliament can ban English-language stations Sputnik and RT from their airwaves, sanctions should have the power to remove Russian-language television from their satellites. In May, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament that she would ban three new broadcasters “in any form, whether on cable, satellite, the Internet or via smartphone apps”.

Politico reported that these three broadcasters are Russian-language news networks that reach Europe, with the help of Eutelsat satellites.

Eutelsat told WIRED: “We are aware of the intention of the European Union to sanction three Russian channels, two of which are broadcast on our satellites, and we are ready to immediately stop broadcasting them as soon as the corresponding European regulation is published.”

The United States recently imposed sanctions on three Russian-language television stations, including NTV (the flagship station of provider NTV+), after concluding that they were “spreading disinformation in support of Putin’s war”. These sanctions are likely to have an impact on their foreign income, but not on their Russian operations.

Attacking the satellites themselves would be an extremely disruptive escalation. Moscow and kyiv are already targeting each other’s satellite communications.

According to Western intelligence agencies, in the hours before its invasion, Russian hackers targeted the American satellite provider Viasat. “While the primary target is believed to have been the Ukrainian military, other customers have been affected, including personal and commercial internet users,” the UK’s National Cyber ​​Center said in a joint statement. with the United States and the EU.

Earlier this week, just ahead of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations – which gave Moscow a prime opportunity to project strength amid its stalled war – Ukraine’s Special State Communications Service announced that “[television] the Russian satellite broadcast to the occupied Ukrainian regions was unexpectedly cut off.

As WIRED reported, Ukraine is aggressively deploying Starlink terminals supplied by the United States and Europe, while Russian satellite communications remain troubled.

European cooperation is not limited to Eutelsat satellite television. Eutelsat has two subsidiaries in Russia, including the home Internet service provider Konnect. In turn, the Russian state satellite operator has a small stake in Eutelsat itself. (Corporate filings say the bulk of the 3.62% stake goes to the Russian Satellite Communications Company, or RSCC.)

Meanwhile, around 20 countries make up the Moscow-based Intersputnik consortium, mostly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Its members include the Czech Republic, Romania, Germany and Ukraine. In 2020, France announced its intention to join Intersputnik.

Intersputnik managed part of the Soviet Union’s satellite fleet, before being privatized after the fall of the USSR. Moscow’s influence on the organization is quite apparent: the chairman of its board is a senior Russian government official.

As the West pursues its messy divorce from Russia, an organization like Intersputnik could allow Russia to launch and maintain satellite service, supporting not only television but also Internet service, military communications and geospatial imagery.

Lange and Philipoff of the Diderot Committee hope that this current struggle may allow for more open flows of information in the future – which is what informs their group’s ironic name. As her website explains: “On July 6, 1762, just nine days after the June 28 coup that put her on the throne, Catherine II invited the French philosopher Denis Diderot to come to Russia in order to publish The encyclopedia, which had been banned in Paris. Diderot accepted his invitation and arrived in Saint Petersburg in October 1773.”

If Russia had not repelled French censorship, the Encyclopediaone of the most important works of the Enlightenment, may never have been published.

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