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Live Ukraine-Russia War News: Latest Updates

The Russian Parliament passed a law on Friday punishing the spreading of “false information” about Russia’s armed forces with as much as 15 years in prison, the latest move by the Kremlin to criminalize any political opposition and independent news reporting during its war against Ukraine.

The law will take effect as soon as Saturday, and could make a criminal offense of simply calling the war a “war” — the Kremlin says it is a “special military operation” — on social media or in a news article or broadcast.

Announcements that the law was coming had already pushed Russian independent media outlets to shut down in recent days, and more followed on Friday. In addition, the government blocked access inside Russia to the websites of major Russian-language outlets that are based outside the country. And the last major independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, said on Twitter that it was deleting its war content.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, said that under the new law, “those who lied and made declarations discrediting our armed forces will be forced to suffer very harsh punishment.” It wasn’t immediately clear whether the law would apply to people inside Russia — such as foreign correspondents — producing content in a language other than Russian. But another senior lawmaker said that citizens of any country could be prosecuted under it.

As the law moved through the legislature, President Vladimir V. Putin held a televised videoconference with the governor of Kaliningrad — the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania — and called on Western countries to normalize their relationships with Russia.

“We don’t see any need to exacerbate the situation or worsen our relationships,” Mr. Putin said. “All of our actions, if they occur, they occur exclusively, always, in response to ill-intended actions toward the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Putin’s comments sounded unreal with the war in Ukraine raging, but they appeared to be a message to his domestic audience to show that he was not the one escalating tensions. And the Kremlin went to ever greater lengths to control the messages Russians hear, mounting a harsher crackdown on free speech than it has at any other moment in Mr. Putin’s 22 years in power.

The text of the new law offers few details about what constitutes an offense, but Russian journalists and Kremlin opponents take it to mean that any contradiction of the government’s statements on the invasion could be treated as a crime. Besides criminalizing the sharing of “false information” it makes “discrediting” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calling on other countries to sanction Russia or protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine punishable by fines and years of imprisonment.

On Thursday, the pillars of Russia’s independent broadcast media, the Echo of Moscow radio station and the TV Rain television channel, shut down under pressure from the state.

Then, on Friday, the government said it would block access to Russian-language media produced outside the country: the websites of the Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the popular Latvian-based news outlet Meduza. The reason: the systematic distribution of what it called false information about the “special military operation on the territory of Ukraine.”

Russians will still be able to reach blocked media through the popular Telegram messaging app, where many news outlets have their own channels. Some can also use virtual private networks, or VPN’s, to bypass restrictions.

The BBC announced on Friday that it was temporarily suspending all journalistic work within Russia in response to the law, though it would continue to operate its Russian-language site — which reached a record 10.7 million people in the past week — from outside the country.

“The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs,” Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, said in a statement.

Znak, an independent news outlet covering Russia’s regions, shuttered its website on Friday, with a statement saying: “We are suspending our operations given the large amount of new restrictions on the functioning of the news media in Russia.”

And The Village, a digital lifestyle magazine that offered recommendations for shopping, restaurants and other activities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, moved its operations to Warsaw this week in response to its website being blocked. The magazine also announced that, out of fear of the new law, it was retroactively editing its articles to change any mention of the word “war” to “special operation.”

Until recently, Russia’s mostly uncensored internet had provided an outlet for Russians to express dissent and to read news reports outside the Kremlin propaganda bubble that envelops much of the country’s traditional news media. But amid the war in Ukraine, which has touched off protests across the country and an outpouring of opposition from Russians online, the Kremlin appears to see the internet as a newfound threat.

Echo of Moscow, a radio station founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and acquired later by the state energy giant Gazprom, said on Friday that it would delete all corporate social media accounts and turn off its website as part of a “liquidation” process. By the afternoon, its popular YouTube channel was gone. More than one million people had tuned in to listen to its programs each day, according to the radio station’s longtime editor in chief, Aleksei A. Venediktov.

“Echo is my home,” said Irina Vorobyeva, a journalist who worked at the radio station for more than 15 years, in an interview on Thursday. “It’s home for a huge number of journalists, and it’s home for a huge number of our guests, who came here to talk about their opinions, to talk about things the world didn’t know.”

One of the last major independent news media outlets standing, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, also appeared to be on the verge of shutting down. It said that it would delete all material on the topic of war in response to censorship.

In an email newsletter on Friday morning, Nadezhda Prusenkova, one of the newspaper’s journalists, wrote that it was hard to see many routes for the publication to continue to exist, echoing a similar sentiment shared by its editor in chief, Dmitry Muratov, in an earlier interview.

“I don’t know what happens next,” she wrote.

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