Russia has threatened to cut off access to YouTube in part or whole unless the video-hosting platform reverses its decision to suspend two of state-run RT's German-language channels for propagating false information.
Communications watchdog Roskomnadzor issued the warning in a letter to management of the Alphabet Inc. unit. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said authorities are prepared to “compel” the company to observe Russian law.
According to Deutsche Welle, YouTube claimed the channels were blocked for breaking its policy against providing incorrect information regarding Covid-19.
The tensions marked the first time Russian authorities attempted to impose sanctions on a Western social media behemoth for its activities outside the country.
The warning was the latest attempt by Russian officials to put pressure on a Western social media platform after it failed to meet their requests. Following threats of punishment of local employees, Apple Inc. and Alphabet's Google unit caved in to pressure from authorities and removed a protest-voting software from their online shops earlier this month. Russian regulators slowed access to Twitter in the spring, alleging that the company failed to respond quickly to demands that it remove banned content. After authorities said Twitter had complied, the access restrictions were lifted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the removal of the RT channels “an act of unprecedented information aggression from the video-hosting YouTube, committed with the obvious connivance, if not at the insistence of the German side.” It threatened retaliation against German media in Russia as well as YouTube, according to a website statement late Tuesday.
The German government has denied any involvement in the incident.
“Because there are reports on Russian channels that say otherwise, I want to say absolutely clearly that it’s a decision by YouTube and the federal government and representatives of the federal government have nothing to do with this decision,” Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, said Wednesday at a regular government news conference. “Whoever claims that is propagating a conspiracy theory.”